Skip to main content

Full text of "Letters of Blessed John of Avila"

See other formats


LETTERS OF B. JOHN OF AVILA 




S. ( AI I AltONI PIXXIT 



DEATH OF BLESSED JOHN OF AVILA 



cv u 



Blessed John of Avila 




TRANSLATED AND SELECTED FROM THE SPANISH 
BY THB 

IBeneDiftmes of ^tanfcroofe 

WITH PREFACE BY THE 

R. R. ABBOT GASQUET, O. S. B. 




STANBROOK. ABBEY, WORCESTER. 

BURNS & GATES LTD, z8 ORCHARD ST. LONDON. W. 
1904 




Content0 

Preface I 

Letter I * 

To St. Teresa, discussing her account of 
her spiritual life 17 

Letter II 

To Don Diego de Gusman and Dr. Loarte 

on their entering the Society of Jesus 24 

Letter III 

To a young lady about to consecrate 

herself by vow to our Lord - 34 

Letter IV 

To a priest, on due preparation for saying 
Mass - 40 

Letter V 

To a widow, consoling her for the death 

of her husband - 49 

* A mistake has been made in the date prefixed to this letter. The 
Madrid edition of Fuente, published in 1881, gives it as September I2th, 
1568, which is probably correct. 





n Contents 

Letter VI 
To an invalid lady - c g 

Letter VII 
To a gentleman who was ill - - 62 

Letter VIII 
On preparation for death - _ - 6c 

Letter IX 

To a dying Jesuit, who was one of Blessed 
John of A vila s disciples _ _ g 

Letter X 

To some friends who were undergoing 

persecution - 

72 

Letter XI 

To console a lady grieving for the absence 
of her son - .. g 

Letter XII 

To a friend, on the management of 
a household - Q 

*5 

Letter XIII 
To a friend, on tepidity go 

Letter XIV 
On scruples, addressed to a lady - - or 



Contents in 

Letter XV 
To a lady, on what constitutes true holiness 9 8 

Letter XVI 

To a lady of rank, encouraging her to 
serve God - - 100 

Letter XVII 
To a lady, on confidence in God - - 106 

Letter XVIII 
To console a young lady in great affliction 1 1 1 

Letter XIX 

To one of his disciples, teaching him how 
to lead a good life - - 1 1 Q 

Letter XX 
To a lady who had asked what charity was 125 

Letter XXI 

To a young lady, telling her how to make 
ready to receive the new-born Jesus 135 

Letter XXII 
To a lady, on the feast of the Epiphany 141 

Letter XXIII 

To a devout person, treating of humility, 
pride, and the perfect love of God 147 



tv Contents 

Letter XXIV 
To a lady, on the feast of Pentecost - 159 

Letter XXV 

To a lady, on the feasts of Pentecost and 
Corpus Christi - 164 



preface 



THIS little volume contains the translation from 
the Spanish of a few spiritual letters of Blessed 
John of Avila. The author is probably not 
much known to English readers ; certainly he 
is not as well known as he deserves to be both 
for his own merits as a writer and because in 
his own time, the sixteenth century, and even 
beyond the limits of his own country, Spain, he 
was a man of great renown. He was recognised 
everywhere as a special servant of God, and as a 
a true director of all souls desiring to walk the 
higher paths of perfection, or of those who need 
ed help and encouragement to serve God in the 
humbler walks of life. He was also a preacher 
of exceptional power. St. Francis of Sales in his 
Practice of the Love of God speaks of him as 
" the learned and saintly preacher of Andalusia," 
St. Francis Borgia as " the Great Master," 
and he was popularly known as the " Apostle 
of Andalusia" from the wonderful change which 
his preaching wrought in that district of Spain. 
His discourses were likened to " fishermen s 
nets gathering in fishes of all sorts " whenever 



2 Preface 

and wheresoever he cast them, so plentiful 
was the harvest of souls which followed his 
expositions of the Christian teaching. 

It may perhaps seem somewhat strange that 
one endowed by God with such personal holiness 
and who had been called to guide the souls of 
St. John of God, St. Francis Borgia, St. Peter 
of Alcantara and St. Teresa, should have had to 
wait so long a time before being raised to the 
ranks of the formally beatified servants of God. 
It is fortunately not in any way necessary for us 
to explain such apparent neglect ; but it was 
only on the I2th of November 1893, some three 
centuries and a half after his death, that Pope 
Leo XIII., of happy memory, decreed his 
Beatification, and the faithful were invited to 
invoke his protection and aid under the title 
of Blessed John of Avila. The writings of the 
great servant of God have hitherto been little 
known, at least in England, and it is with the 
confident expectation that those, who will read 
the letters here printed, will find in them 
spiritual comfort and solid Christian teaching, 
that they have been translated from the Spanish. 

For the sake of those into whose hands this 
little volume may fall, who are unacquainted 
with the life of Blessed John of Avila, it may be 
useful to give a brief outline of his career. Letters 
and other writings of anyone wholly unknown 
to us do not as a rule interest us as much as 
when we have at least a general knowledge of 
their author and of the circumstances under 



Preface 3 

which they were written. From a contemporary 
historian we learn that our author was born on 
6th January 1500, at Almodovar del Campo, 
a town in the diocese of Toledo and in the 
kingdom of New Castile. Spain was then 
under the rule of Ferdinand and Isabella and 
the Church was governed by Pope Alexander VI. 

The parents of Blessed John of Avila were 
people in a good social position and able to give 
him an excellent education, but more important 
than this, they were both truly and solidly 
pious. In fact their son was given to them in 
their old age when they had ceased to hope for 
children, as the direct result of prayer during 
a pilgimage made in honour of St. Bridget. 

From his early boyhood Blessed John of 
Avila manifested signs of extraordinary piety 
and it required little discernment to see that 
God had destined him for some special service 
in the Church. At the age of fourteen he had 
finished his literary studies and, as in the opinion 
of his masters he gave promises of a distinguished 
career, his father sent him to the University of 
Salamanca to study law. After a twelvemonth 
spent in the legal schools, however, he manifested 
such a distaste for secular studies that his father 
allowed him to return home. The next three 
years were spent almost entirely in the seclusion 
he made for himself, with the consent of his 
parents, in his father s house, and in which he 
devoted himself to the practice of penance and 
to the study of the science of the saints with 



4 Preface 

our Lord and His Blessed Mother as his chief 
teachers. 

At the end of this period of retirement, by 
the advice of a friend, he determined to prepare 
for the priesthood. With this intention he 
went to Alcala to commence his Philosophy and 
Theology, which he was fortunate enough to be 
able to study under the celebrated Dominican 
professor, de Soto, who formed the highest 
opinion both of his abilities and of his exemplary 
piety. Whilst here he formed a lasting friendship 
with Don Pedro Gerrero, who afterwards became 
Archbishop of Granada and to whom several 
of his letters are addressed. 

Before he had finished his philosophical course 
both his parents died. He remained on at the 
University until his studies were sufficiently 
advanced for him to receive the sacred Order of 
Priesthood, when he returned home to say his 
first mass in the church wherein his two parents 
were buried. After this he disposed of his 
family property and gave the proceeds to the 
poor. The desire of his heart inclined him to 
the missions in Mexico and, having no family 
ties and having dispossessed himself of all his 
belongings, he seemed to see in his circumstances 
an indication of the Divine Will in his regard. 
He consequently made all preliminary arrange 
ments and repaired in 1527, to Seville to await 
an opportunity of setting out for the scene of 
his mission. Meantime his days and nights 
-were spent in prayer and penance and in filling 



Preface 5 

His mind with that heavenly learning which 
only constant communing with God Himself 
can impart. 

The design formed by Blessed John of Avila 
of leaving Spain to work in the Mexican 
missions was not, however, destined to be 
carried out. At the beginning of 1528, he was 
induced by ecclesiastical authority to renounce 
the idea in order to assist in evangelizing the 
province of Andalusia. His first sermon was 
preached on 22 July, 1529. He had looked 
forward with dread to the ordeal of facing an 
audience and speaking to them of the high 
mysteries of God and of their duties as 
Christians. On mounting the pulpit his ner 
vousness for a few moments deprived him of 
the power of speech, until he remembered that 
it was God s work, undertaken only for His 
sake, and raising his mind and soul to heaven 
he said : " My God, if it be Thy will that I 
should preach, remove from me this great 
confusion I am feeling. Do this I beg Thee, 
by the memory of thy bitter Passion for Thou 
knowest whether I seek aught else but Thy 
glory and the salvation of souls." At once his 
nervous distress passed away and he became 
one of the most eloquent and successful 
preachers that Spain has ever seen. Whenever 
it was known that he was to preach, the church 
was thronged by crowds anxious to hear him, 
and great harvests of souls were gathered 
wheresoever he sowed the seed of the word of 



6 Preface 

God. Father Luis of Granada, who wrote his 
life likened him to an arquebuse loaded to the 
very muzzle which made great havoc at every 
discharge. 

Many instances are given in his life of the 
effect of Blessed John of Avila s sermons. The 
two most celebrated examples were undoubtedly 
the conversions of St. John of God and of Saint 
Francis Borgia which were wrought by the power 
of his preaching. The former, a Portuguese 
travelling merchant, came by accident in 1537, 
to a place where the holy servant of God was 
preaching and by the effect of his burning 
words was changed from a worldling with no 
higher thoughts than those of his business into a 
man given to heroic and life-long penance. The 
change wrought in St. Francis Borgia was 
equally astonishing. In 1539, Queen Isabella 
died at Toledo after a few days illness. Francis 
Borgia, Marquis of Lombay, who had been 
a member of the royal household was chosen to 
escort the body to Granada for burial. On the 
arrival of the body, the coffin had to be opened 
in the presence of Borgia, for the formalities 
of identification, when the terrible change that 
had been wrought by the hand of death in the 
features of the once beautiful Queen, was seen 
by Borgia and made a great impression upon 
him. Blessed John of Avila was appointed to 
preach the funeral oration and, as if inspired to 
enforce the lesson already taught the courtier 
by the sight of the corrupted body of his former 



Preface 7 

mistress, he spoke in forcible terms of the 
transitory character of worldly honour and 
position, and of the corruption that overtook all 
mankind alike and from which neither king nor 
prince could escape. His words wrought the 
instant conversion of Saint Francis Borgia and 
by Blessed John of Avila s advice he joined the 
Society of Jesus as one of the first disciples of 
Saint Ignatius. For this great Saint and for his 
new Society which was founded at this time, our 
venerable servant of God, always entertained 
the warmest affection and admiration. He 
sent many of his disciples to the Jesuits and 
encouraged them in the many difficulties and 
troubles experienced by them in their first 
beginnings in Spain. One of the letters printed 
in this little volume is addressed to Dr. Loarte 
and another, on their becoming Jesuits ; another 
is a letter of consolation to a dying son of 
St. Ignatius, and a third, to " friends undergoing 
persecution", is also perhaps sent to encourage 
some members of the Society in their troubles. 
In the then need for Christian education and 
religious instruction in Spain, Blessed John of 
Avila regarded the foundation of the Society of 
Jesus as a marked instance of God s providence 
in providing for the wants of the Church. His 
opinion was communicated to St. Ignatius and 
was a source of great satisfaction and consolation 
to him. Moreover Blessed John of Avila gave 
so many practical proofs of his desire to assist 
the Society in its early days that he was 



8 Preface 

accounted Its best friend in Spain and for all 
the foundations made by the Institute in 
Andalusia it was directly indebted to his 
influence. 

For some years before his death, Blessed 
John of Avila suffered from constant sickness, 
which however he did not allow to interfere 
with his working for souls. He bore his 
maladies in the spirit of gratitude to God who 
allowed him to suffer something for his love 
the spirit which he so earnestly exhorted others 
to cultivate, as in the two excellent letters 
addressed to people ill, which are printed in this 
volume. After sixteen years of suffering Blessed 
John of Avila died on 10 May 1569. 

Some of the works of this venerable servant 
of God have never been published, such as his 
"Treatise on clerical life" and his "Remarks 
upon the Council of Trent." Of his published 
writings his " Spiritual letters," and his tract 
"Audi Filia" are the best known. Both were 
translated into English in the iyth century : 
the "Audi Filia" in 1620 by L. T., and the 
"Letters" in 1631, but these editions, especially 
the English translation of the letters, have long 
been very scarce books. Even had they been 
easily obtainable their antiquated diction and 
the involved nature of the translation would 
make them antiquarian curiosities rather than 
books practically useful for spiritual help at the 
present time. 

The letters with which we are more imme- 



Preface 9 

dlately concerned are very numerous. In the 
French translation of Robert Arnaud d Andilli 
they are divided into four sections or books ; 
the first contains letters twenty-two in number 
addressed to prelates and other religious 
superiors ; the second those written to nuns 
and superiors of convents, in number thirty-one ; 
the third, letters to women of quality in the 
world, in number sixty-three, and the fourth 
those to lay-men of all kinds, thirty-three in 
number. 

The present selection of five and twenty 
letters has been made from the entire number, 
and affords examples taken from all four 
divisions. Though only a small number, they 
will be sufficient to give the reader some 
knowledge of the power and charm of Blessed 
John of Avila s epistolary style. Moreover 
they set forth, better than any life can, the 
personality of this great servant of God. The 
letters of all great and good men are a precious 
inheritance to those who come after them, and 
they afford information about their inner souls, 
and an insight into the working of their minds 
which can be obtained in no other way. The 
Benedictine Editor of the letters of St. Augustine 
explains exactly wherein consists the special 
value of the documents he was engaged upon. 
" As the eyes are to the other bodily senses," 
he writes, " so are the letters of illustrious men 
in numberless ways more wonderful than all 
their other works. . . . Just as no one can better 



lo Preface 

show himself to the life than in his letters, so 
nowhere can he be better known" than in 
them. . . Any careful reader may, in such letters, 
look into the soul of the writer, as if he were 
close at hand. 

Luis de Munoz, who is the author of one 
of the Spanish lives of the Blessed John of 
Avila, devotes a considerable space to the letters 
written by this servant of God and to the spirit 
which dictated them. From early youth this ser 
vant of God, he says, set St. Paul before him 
as a model and became the living image of the 
great Doctor of the Gentiles, imitating him in 
his actions, preaching and virtues, and indeed 
fulfilling the Apostle s command : " Be ye 
imitators of me as I am of Christ." Munoz then 
goes on to point out how this imitation of Saint 
Paul was manifested in the letters written by 
Blessed John of Avila. Just as the burning 
zeal of the Apostle was not quenched with 
preaching to those who could hear his voice, 
but endeavoured in his Epistles to draw 
all the world to Christ, so Blessed John of 
Avila, his disciple and humble imitator, wrote 
an immense number of letters to all sorts and 
conditions of people. He had no idea of 
composing a volume of letters, nor could he 
have dreamed that what he penned would 
ever have been published, but providentially 
some at least of them were preserved that 
after generations might enjoy his earnest ex 
hortations, and profit by the spiritual food 



Preface 1 1 

intended originally for the person or persons, to 
whom the letters were actually addressed. 

It is impossible not to admire the style and 
vigour of the letters here printed. The doctrine 
taught in them is solid and fruitful and their 
persuasive quality speaks for itself. The words, 
says Munoz, have such power and force that they 
fire the most frozen and the hardest of hearts, 
and nobody can read them without wishing and 
resolving to change his life for the better. 
Many learned and pious theologians have looked 
upon these letters of Blessed John of Avila as 
amongst the most precious of the many writings 
of God s saints, and have declared that for them 
alone, in their opinion, he would deserve to be 
called a " Doctor of the Church." And indeed 
Blessed John of Avila s whole manner of writing 
is that of some early Father of the Church whose 
aim was to secure not the good of his own indi 
vidual soul but that of the whole Body. His 
versatility is extraordinary and he seems to enter 
fully into the difficulties that are proposed to him, 
though the subjects upon which he is asked to 
write are as numerous, and as different, as were 
the needs of the people who applied to him for 
advice. " With what convincing and powerful 
reasons," writes Father Luis Munoz, " does he 
not console the sad, encourage the weak, rouse 
the tepid, strengthen the timid, help the 
tempted, weep with the fallen and humble the 
presumptuous ? How admirable is his un 
masking of the arts and tricks of the enemy I 



1 2 Preface 

What wise counsels he gives for defending 
ourselves against him ! What clear indications 
and signs he sets forth by which a man may 
know whether he is advancing or falling back 
in his service of God ! How he shows the 
weakness of the strength of nature and the 
power of grace ! How clearly he exposes the 
vanity of the world, the malice of sin and the 
ever present dangers of this life ! With what 
eloquence and insistence does he not exhort us 
to put all our trust in the Fatherly care of God 
and in the merits of the Precious Blood of 
Christ ! How efficaciously he urges upon us 
the virtue of patience in trials, cheers us in 
sorrow and encourages us in afflictions and 
troubles ! There is no state of life in the 
Church of which he does not make known the 
special duties and the means by which they may 
be fulfilled. He tells great lords how to govern 
their vassals and manage their estates : he 
instructs priests how worthily to offer the Holy 
Sacrifice, and preachers how to preach with fruit, 
and he shows virgins espoused to Christ how 
to guard zealously their purity." 

If such is the character of these spiritual 
letters we need not wonder at being told that 
Blessed John of Avila never wrote to any one 
without producing a wonderful effect in the 
soul of the recipient, leading to a permanent 
change and improvement of life. Father Munoz 
tells us that he wrote his letters with extraordi 
nary ease and rapidity. As a rule he wrote 



Preface 1 3 

down just what occurred to him without any 
previous thought or study. Generally the letter 
was sent just as it was first written off, without 
obliterating or correcting anything, and those 
who knew him ascribed the facility, with which 
he set forth his arguments, gave his advice and 
enforced them by the words of Holy Scripture 
and of the Saints, to the prayer to which he 
gave himself each morning. 

Sometimes, however, he would not reply to 
a communication at once. On such occasions 
he would say : " Let us recommend the matter 
to our Lord and say Mass about it." Days 
might pass without a reply being sent and if he 
were pressed to send an answer he would say : 
" Our Lord has not yet told me what to say to 
you." Then after a time he would write with 
as great a certainty and clearness, as if he had 
heard the answer from our Lord himself. 

We are told in the life of this holy servant of 
God that the Society of Jesus always particularly 
esteemed and appreciated his works and in 
some Jesuit houses in Spain they were read in 
the Refectory during a considerable portion of 
the year. In Lent the Audi Filia was chosen 
because it treated so sublimely of the Passion 
of Christ. During the Octaves of Pentecost 
and Corpus Christi Blessed John of Avila s 
sermons on the Holy Ghost and Corpus Christi 
were read, and during a good part of the rest 
of the year his Letters "so full of spiritual 
prudence." 



14 Preface 

Sufficient and more than sufficient has been 
said about the Letters of our holy author, for 
after all they will speak their own praise best. 
One word, however, may be permitted about 
the translation itself. Those who are responsible 
for it have, in my opinion rightly, endeavoured 
to reproduce in English the force and charm 
of the original thought, without necessarily 
copying the words exactly or translating the 
Spanish idioms and phrases in too servile a 
manner. Their aim has been to give the idea 
of the author to English readers rather than 
the actual words, in which, according to the 
genius of his own beautiful Spanish tongue, he 
was constrained to express it. The following 
passage from Cardinal Newman exactly states 
the principles which have guided the translators 
in their work : "As to the translations he 
(Newman) is very sensible what constant and 
unflagging attention is requisite in all translation 
to catch the sense of the original, and what 
discrimination in the choice of English to do 
justice to it ; and what certainty there is of 
short comings, after all. And further, over 
and above actual faults, variety of tastes and 
fluctuation of moods among readers, make it 
impossible so to translate as to please every one ; 
and if a translator be conscious to himself, as he 
may well be, of viewing either his original or 
his version differently, according to the season 
or the feeling in which he takes it up, and finds 
that he njsver shall have done with correcting 



Preface 1 5 

and altering except by an act of self-control, the 
more easy will it be for him to resign himself 
to such differences of judgment about his work 
as he experiences in others. 

It should be considered, too, that translation 
in itself is, after all, but a problem ; how two 
languages being given, the nearest approximation 
may be made in the second to the expression 
of ideas already conveyed through the medium 
of the first. The problem almost starts with 
the assumption that something must be sacri 
ficed ; and the chief question is, what is the 
least sacrifice ? In a balance of difficulties, one 
translator will aim at being critically correct, 
and he will become obscure, cumbrous and 
foreign ; another will aim at being English and 
will appear deficient in scholarship. While 
grammatical particles are followed out, the spirit 
evaporates ; and, while an easy flow of language 
is secured, new ideas are intruded or the point 
of the original is lost, or the drift of the context 
impaired. Under these circumstancas, perhaps, 
it is fair to lay down that while every care must 
be taken against the introduction of new, or the 
omission of existing ideas, in translating the 
original text, yet, in a book intended for general 
reading, faithfulness may be considered simply 
to consist in expressing in English the sense of 
the original ; the actual words of the latter 
being viewed mainly as directions into its sense, 
and scholarship being necessary in order to gain 
the full insight into that sense which they 



1 6 Preface 

afford ; and next : that where something must 
be sacrificed, precision or intelligibility, it is 
better in a popular work to be understood by 
those who are not critics than to be applauded 
by those who are." ("Advertisement" to 
Historical Sketches. Vol. II.). 

F. Aidan Gasquet. 
Stanbrook Abbey. 

Feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross. 

3 May, 1904. 



Letter 1 17 



letter i 

TO SAINT TERESA, 
DISCUSSING HER ACCOUNT OF HER SPIRITUAL LIFE. 

St. Teresa was led by God along such extraordinary 
paths and granted so many sublime and miraculous 
favours, as to cause both the Saint herself, as well 
as many other people, to fear that she was deluded 
by the devil. She consulted several theologians who 
were unable to agree on the subject and the Inquisitor, 
Soto de Salazar, advised her to write a clear 
account of her spiritual life and prayer and submit 
it to the judgment of Blessed John of Avila, " who" 
he said, had " so much experience and authority, 
that, if he approve of your book, your mind may be 
set at rest for ever." This narration of the Saint 
constitutes the well known " Life of St. Teresa, 
written by herself" which is considered by the 
Church a standard treatise on mystical Theology. 
The following favourable reply from Blessed John 
of dvila, made probably about 1563, brought her 
great comfort, as she tells us in her letters. On 
hearing of his death, St. Teresa wept, saying, " the 
Church has lost one of her chief pillars, and many 
souls are deprived of a guide and support, of whom 
I am one" 

May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ our 
Lord be ever with you. I consented to read your 
book which was sent me, not so much because 

yd. i. 



1 8 Blessed John of Avlla 

I considered myself competent to judge of such 
matters, as because I thought that, by the grace 
of God, its teaching might benefit me. Although 
I have had no leisure to study it as thoroughly 
as it deserves, yet, thanks be to God, it has 
given me great consolation, and it will be my 
own fault if it does not profit my soul. On 
my own account it might suffice to say no more 
about it, yet I think the gravity of the subject 
and the respect due to the person who sent it, 
require me to express my opinion of it, at least 
in general terms. 

It is not a book proper for every one to 
read the language requires to be corrected in 
some places and to be made clearer in others. 
There are things in it which, though useful to 
you in your own spiritual life, would not do 
for every one to practise, for God guides some 
souls along extraordinary paths which are not 
intended for others. I have noted most of 
these passages and will arrange them for you 
as soon as possible, and send them to you 
without fail. If you knew the infirm state of 
my health, and how I am constantly employed 
in many necessary duties, you would, I am 
sure, be more inclined to pity me, than to accuse 
me of neglect. 

On the whole, your teaching on prayer is 
correct, and you may safely trust to it and 
practise it ; the raptures too afford proof of 
being genuine. What you say about God s 
teaching the soul without the use of the 



Letter I 19 

imagination, that is by interior or exterior 
communications, is safe, and I can find no fault 
with it. St. Augustine treats this subject well. 
Such communications, both interior and exterior, 
have misled many in our times ; the exterior 
ones specially are less safe ; for though there is 
little difficulty in knowing that they are not 
from ourselves, it is not so easy to decide 
whether they proceed from a good or from an 
evil spirit. There are many rules for discovering 
when they come from God ; one is, that they 
should come to us in times of need ; or be 
a great help to the soul, such as strengthening 
it in times of temptation or doubt ; or warning 
it of the approach of danger. For if even a 
man who is good never speaks without purpose, 
how much less would God do so. Considering 
that the communications mentioned in your 
book are conformable to the Holy Scriptures 
and the teaching of the Church, I judge that, 
if not all, at least the greater part of them, 
come from God. Visions, whether imaginary 
or corporeal, are the most deceptive : they are 
never to be desired, and, should they come 
uninvited they should, as far as possible, be 
resisted. Unless, however, it is certain that 
they proceed from an evil spirit, this should 
not be done by making signs of contempt. 
I was pained and shocked to hear of its having 
been done in your case. We should beg of 
God not to allow us to walk by sight, but to 
defer the revelation of Himself and His Saints 



2O Blessed John of Avila 

until we reach Heaven, and we should ask 
Him to guide us whilst on earth along the 
common path by which He leads His faithful 
friends. We must also take other suitable means 
for shunning these visions. If, nevertheless, 
they continue to come to us and are profitable 
to the soul, not inciting her to vanity, but 
increasing her humility ; if, moreover, these 
communications be conformable to the teaching 
of the Church, and if they last a considerable 
time and infuse a spiritual joy into the soul 
which can be better felt than described, I do 
not think that it is necessary any longer to try 
to avoid them. No one, however, should be 
his own guide in these cases, but should com 
municate them at once to some enlightened 
counsellor. This is the universal rule to be 
followed on all such occasions, and we may 
trust that God will not suffer any one to be 
deceived who wishes to be safe and has the 
humility to acknowledge his incompetence to 
judge in such matters for himself. It is not 
right, however, to cause alarm, and at once 
condemn these favours because the soul to 
whom they are vouchsafed is not perfect, for, 
as I have often witnessed, God withdraws people 
from harmful pleasures, and even from grievous 
sins, by sending them His sweet consolations. 
Who shall place limits to God s mercies ? As 
these graces, moreover, are not bestowed on 
any one on account of his own merits or strength 
but, on the contrary, are often given to souls 



Letter I 21 

because of their weakness, they neither necessarily 
increase sanctity, nor are always granted to the 
greatest saints. It is unreasonable for any one 
to disbelieve these matters because of their 
sublime nature, or since it appears incredible 
that a Majesty so exalted should abase Himself 
to hold such loving intercourse with His 
creatures. It is written that "God is love" 
and if He is love, He must needs be infinite 
love and infinite goodness, and it is no wonder 
that such love and goodness should at times 
bestow on certain souls an affection which 
confounds those who do not understand it. 
Although many know this by faith, yet, unless 
they have experienced it themselves, they cannot 
understand the affectionate, and more than 
affectionate way, in which God elects to treat 
some of His creatures. Those who themselves 
are far from having received favours of this 
kind, cannot believe God would deal with others 
in so different a manner. Yet it would be only 
reasonable to think that such love, a love which 
fills us with wonder, must come from God, 
Who is marvellous in all His works, but still 
more marvellous in His mercies. But what 
should really be a proof of the truth of these 
favours, (provided other circumstances confirm 
the evidence) is taken by some people as a 
pretext to deny their reality. 

From your book it is clear that you have 
resisted in these matters even more firmly than 
necessary. These graces have evidently benefited 



22 Blessed John of Avila 

you, especially by showing you your misery and 
faults, and helping you to correct them. They 
have continued for a long time and always 
profited your soul, moving you to love God 
and despise yourself and to do penance. I am 
therefore more inclined to think these favours 
beneficial than to condemn them, if you are 
cautious, and do not blindly trust to them, 
especially those of an unaccustomed kind, or 
those which urge you to perform any action 
doubtfully good. In cases such as this, you 
must suspend your belief in them, and at once 
seek counsel. I warn you that, though these 
graces should be sent by God, yet the devil 
might mingle falsehood with them : therefore 
always be on your guard. Even though it be 
certain that the favours come from God, yet 
do not let your mind dwell on them with 
complacency, for holiness does not consist in 
such things, but in a humble love of God and 

O * 

our neighbour. Fear all ways other than this, 
and practise humility, the virtues, and the love 
of our Lord. Do not worship any of these 
visions, but only our Lord Jesus Christ, either 
in Heaven, or in the Blessed Sacrament. If 
one of the Blessed should appear to you, raise 
your heart to that Saint in Heaven, and not to 
what you see before you : let the image lead 
your thoughts to the reality. The things of 
which you treat in your book happen to many 
souls in these times, and there is no doubt 
that they proceed from God, Whose arm is not 



Letter I 23 

shortened so that He cannot do now what He 
did in past ages : He chooses the weaker vessels 
the better to manifest His glory. Continue in 
in this path then, but be watchful against 
robbers and pray for guidance. Thank God 
for having given you a love for Him, a 
knowledge or yourself, and an attraction for 
penance and for the cross. Do not concern 
yourself much about the other matters ; though 
you should not despise them, for many show 
signs of coming from God, and the rest can do 
you no harm if you ask direction about them. 
I cannot believe that I have written this by my 
own power, for I have none, but it is the result 
of your prayers. I beg you for the love of 
Jesus Christ our Saviour, to pray for me to 
Him : He knows that I need it urgently, and I 
feel sure that is enough to make you grant my 
request. I must beg you now to let me conclude, 
as I am obliged to write another letter. 

May Jesus be glorified by all and in all ! 
Your servant for Christ s sake, 

Juan de Avila. 



24 Blessed yohn of Avila 



letter it 

TO DON DIEGO DE GUSMAN AND DR. LOARTE ON 
THEIR ENTERING THE SOCIETY OF JESUS. 

Father Diego de Gusman and Doctor Loarte 
were amongst the earliest disciples of Blessed John 
of Avila to enter the Society of Jesus. 

The former, who may be called his first-born 
spiritual child, was son of Count Baylen, but 
renounced his rank and wealth in early youth to 
become a priest. He spent fifteen years in preaching 
with great fruit and was then, in 1552, received 
into the Society of Jesus by St. Francis Borgia. He 
continued his former work until called to Rome by 
St. Ignatius Loyola, who sent him to preach in 
different parts of Italy : he died in Andalusia with 
the reputation of a Saint. 

Doctor Loarte was a famous theologian and 
assisted Father Gusman in his work in Spain, but 
his great humility made him choose the office of 
catechising children and hearing confessions. They 
were received together into the Society of Jesus and 
went to Rome at the same time. Doctor Loarte 
was afterwards made head of the college at Genoa, 
and died in Spain in 1582. 

I. Do not select any particular means for 
promoting your own ends nor fix your affections 
on any persons, but content yourself with 



Letter II 25 

wishing them well and interceding for them to 
God. Beware of desiring to aid them by any 
special ways of your own choosing : on the 
contrary resist such thoughts as you would 
a temptation. 

II. Do not imagine that you enter the Society 
to criticise other people, but ever keep in your 
heart that saying of a holy monk : " 1 am come 
to be judged by other men, not to judge them." 
Be most careful to avoid this danger, especially 
if you consider yourself wise and enlightened, 
for it is easy to make mistakes in such matters 
and even to risk losing divine grace. Believe 
that God directs those He sets to govern, and 
that Superiors may have some special motive 
or intention for their actions of which you 
know nothing. In short, do not judge other 
men, and keep clear of all that does not concern 
you ; " What is it to thee ? follow thou me " 
(St. John XXI. 22.), otherwise you will live 
in a state of constant anxiety and trouble. 

III. Ground yourself thoroughly in obedience, 
and consider that God has shown you great 
mercy in calling you to practise it in this life. 
Trust that He will make His will known to 
you through your superiors, having this confi 
dence, not on account of any wisdom they 
possess, but because He has promised to aid the 
humble. If you obey implicitly, you will enjoy 
great peace and make rapid progress in a short 
time. 

IV. Although you are not allowed the liberty 



26 Blessed John of Avila 

you think necessary for you to win souls, but 
are occupied in duties of a different kind, do 
not be disquieted on this account. The main 
tenance and extension of this Order contribute 
greatly to the salvation of men, which is the 
object for which it was instituted. Therefore, 
if you are merely washing dishes you are helping 
to convert souls, and you should be perfectly 
content with such work, and should consecrate 
your life to helping the Society in whatever 
way you are bidden by those set over you. 
Do not let your thoughts dwell on any other 
service, but willingly do whatever is commanded 
you, not so much for the sake of the merit of 
the action itself, as because obedience requires it 
of you. Consider that Christ has given you 
a great grace in calling you to be a member of 
this Society in which He is so fervently served. 
V. Be prepared for the cross, and have it ever 
before your eyes : strive to give no cause for 
complaint to others and bear patiently with their 
faults. Let not differences of character in the 
various members of the community disturb 
your mind, for until you have well stood the 
test of living in the society of your brethren, 
you must not consider that you have made 
much spiritual progress. Your principal care 
should be to live in charity with your brethren, 
suffering injuries joyfully and willingly ; taking 
example from the meekness of Christ our Lord, 
let others tread you as the mire beneath their 
feet. You will meet with so many temptations 



Letter II 27 

on this point, that unless you watch vigilantly, 
you will be certain to fall. Keep your attention 
fixed on yourself ; never argue with or rebuke 
other people, nor try to rule them, unless the 
duty is laid upon you : if it is not, let your 
watchword be : "I am not come to judge but 
to be judged." 

VI. Apply yourself to work at your own 
progress in the spiritual life with all the diligence 
proper for accomplishing God s designs. Re 
member that you have been called to behold 
the celestial vision of Christ hanging upon the 
cross, and that you stand on holy ground ; 
therefore let no immortified affection reign 
within you. " Be strengthened in Christ and 
in the power of his might," (Ephes. VI. 10.) ; 
deny yourself not only in your senses, but 
chiefly in your will, and most of all in your 
understanding, for it is this which saps the 
foundations of good and is the enemy of peace ; 
this is the presumptuous ring-leader of rebellion 
and the judge of its superiors ; this is the father 
of divisions and the enemy of obedience, because 
it is an idol set up in the place of God. Again 
and again I exhort and entreat you by the 
mercies of Christ, to humble your understanding 
and let God reign over it by faith : holding 
firmly that what your superiors command is 
our Lord s will. Let this thought and no 
other be ever your consolation and your refuge 
in all difficulties, for as long as you hold to it, 
all will be well with you. 



28 Blessed John of Avila 

Five grades of humility. 

The first grade is that, recognising his own 
baseness, a man should treat his own will with 
contempt. 

The second is outwardly to show this self- 
contempt both in dress and manners, and by 
choosing work of a mean and servile character. 

The third is to be patient when despised by 
others. 

The fourth is to rejoice in being despised. 

The fifth is to desire with the whole heart to 
be despised by others. 

Twelve other degrees of humility. 1 

The first degree is the fear of God. 

The second, is to deny our own will. 

The third, is obedience. 

The fourth, is patience. 

The fifth, is the confession of sins. 

The sixth, is contempt of oneself. 

The seventh, is to prefer others to oneself, 
esteeming them more highly. 

The eighth, is to avoid singularity in outward 
things. 

The ninth, is to be silent unless spoken to. 

The tenth, is not to be prompt to laughter. 

The eleventh, is to speak little and with 
gravity. 

The twelfth, is to prefer a low estate and 
occupation. 

1 These are a short epitome of the famous twelve degrees of humility, 
contained in the 7th chapter of the Holy Rule of St. Benedict. 



Letter II 29 

Ten counsels to lead the soul in the way 

of salvation. 

I. At once to reject from your mind not 
only rash judgments of your neighbour but the 
very thought of his faults or sins. Turn your 
mind towards God and show Him the wounds 
of your own soul that He may cure them. 

II. If you have not the strength to desire suf 
ferings, censures, vexations, or affronts, rudeness 
and hard work, at least endure them patiently 
and in silence: do not concern yourself to know 
from whom they come, but look upon them as 
sent from the hand of God. Pray to Him for 
those who are the cause of these trials and beg 
Him to give you grace to bear them for His 
love, reflecting that patience in suffering is a sign 
of salvation. 

III. Return thanks to God for all your 
spiritual graces, natural gifts and every other 
good that you possess, attributing nothing to 
yourself except your sins, faults and imper 
fections. 

IV. When any feeling of jealousy arises in 
your mind on account of the spiritual, natural, 
or temporal advantages of your neighbour, lift 
up your heart to God, begging of Him to 
increase these gifts in your brethren; rejoice in 
the well-being of others and be sorry for their 
short-comings. 

V. Let it be your firm conviction that you 
should neither desire nor strive for anything 



30 Blessed John of 

but to possess the grace and love of God, to 
avoid offending Him and to please Him in all 
things. Whether death or life, sickness or 
health, joy or sadness, honour or shame, be 
your lot, whether you be the Rector or the 
cook, either here or at the other end of the 
world, it will matter nothing, except in so far 
as it brings you nearer to God. 

VI. Be persuaded of this truth, that as long 
as you live you will have to suffer trials, sorrows, 
temptations, and the cross, for this is the livery 
of the servants of Jesus Christ our Lord. Bear 
these patiently, remembering that your sins are 
many and deserve far greater punishments : 
" The life of man upon earth is a warfare." 
(Job VII. i.) and: "He that shall persevere 
unto the end, he shall be saved." (St. Matth. 

X. 22.) 

VII. Whenever you give way to any thought, 
word, or work of pride, such as, that you are 
better, or more useful, or in any way preferable 
to others, reject it instantly as most abhorrent 
to God. Confess your sins and faults to Him 
and beg Him to remedy them: "For God 
resisteth the proud, but to the humble he 
giveth grace." (i. Pet. V. 5.) 

VIII. When reason tells you that others are 
guilty of some matter as to which you are 
innocent, do not excuse yourself, though you 
are not blameworthy, but accuse yourself and 
praise your brother, even if it bring upon you 
punishment, or reproof, or pain. Though upon 



Letter II 3 1 

this occasion you have not deserved it, yet your 
past sins have merited this penance; thus you 
can never suffer as one wholly innocent, and 
therefore never exculpate yourself. 

IX. Frequently during the day, but especially 
when you make your examination of conscience, 
remember to render thanks to our Lord Jesus 
Christ for having redeemed you and made you 
a friend of God, and for having gained so many 
benefits for you by His Passion and sufferings. 
Bless God for having given Him to you; you 
should also glorify God for His own Perfections. 

X. The fruit of Holy Communion and of all 
other spiritual exercises should be to obtain for 
us greater strength to serve and love our Lord, 
to resist temptations, to bear our trials with 
patience, and not to afford us sweetness or 
pleasant feelings, which are usually signs of 
imperfection and may even be sent by the devil 
to deceive us. Do not therefore strive to gain 
these sentiments if our Lord does not send 
them to you, and if He should, beware of 
presumption by despising your neighbour 
because he is without them, for, very possibly, 
he is holier and more dear to God than you are. 

Fifteen rules for one who purposes entering 
the religious state. 

I. Keep your sins ever before your mind and 
repent of them daily. 

II. Consider yourself most vile and negligent 



32 Blessed "John of Avila 

in all things and unworthy of the company or 
sight of other men, and so, despairing of any 
good in yourself, trust solely in the mercy 
of God. 

III. Not only must you abstain from judging 
others, but you must keep your mind solely 
fixed upon your own faults, so that you may 
neither perceive nor reflect upon the defects of 
other people. 

IV. Neither show nor feel anger towards 
anyone, nor bear them any ill-will or hatred, 
but keep your heart quiet, peaceful and humble, 
and let your demeanour be grave and modest. 

V. Show yourself prompt and willing to help 
others. 

VI. Use no idle word nor joke, nor speak 
lightly, unless charity to your brethren demand 
it. 

VII. Bear patiently all annoyances, contra 
dictions, abuse and hard words sent you by 
God to try you: suffer them cheerfully and 
even desire them; be resigned and do not let 
your soul rebel against them. 

VIII. Mortify all desires to know, hear, 
experience, or possess anything which is un 
necessary; let your one earnest effort be to 
profit your soul. 

IX. Instantly drive away all thoughts which 
would lead you from God. 

X. Let your only care in this life be to please 
the Almighty. 

XL Do not puzzle over events which happen 



Letter II 



33 



or wonder why such and such things occur, but 
take them all thankfully from God s hands, 
trusting firmly that He watches over you and 
all men, and will never permit anything to 
happen but for our greater good, however little 
we may understand it. 

XII. Be content with the food which is given 
to the community in general, and do not ask 
for anything extra as long as you are well. If 
you cannot eat what is set before you, give 
thanks for the opportunity of mortifying your 
appetite. 

XIII. Do not concern yourself about what is 
no business of yours, particularly in respect to 
the faults of your brethren or the actions of 
superiors. 

XIV. Always render obedience, respect and 
sincere affection to your superiors; hold them 
in high esteem and never allow anything to be 
said or done in your presence either against 
them or other people. 

XV. Let your soul as well as your body 
keep solitude; never be idle, and endeavour to 
despise all earthly things. Diligently observe 
the rules and constitutions in the proper place, 
time and manner, and all other necessary 
circumstances, for these are the weapons of 
your warfare, and unless you wish to run the 
risk of temptation, you must be most strict on 
this point. 

rot. /. 



34 Blessed "John o 



Letter in 

A LETTER TO A YOUNG LADY ABOUT 
TO CONSECRATE HERSELF BY VOW TO OUR LORD. 

// was the custom in Spain at the time this letter 
was written, as we often read in St. Teresa s works, 
for young girls to consecrate themselves to our Lord 
by a vow of virginity and to live henceforth a life 
of penance in the world, like the consecrated virgins 
of the early Church. The letter is probably addressed 
to Dona Sancha Carillo, a court beauty, who on the 
eve of a brilliant marriage made her confession to 
B. John of Avila, and at once decided to renounce 
the world. She made a vow of chastity and lived 
a most austere life in a hermitage adjoining her 
father s house at Quadakazar. At the age of 
twenty-four, Andalusia being threatened with famine 
for want of water, Dona Sancha offered herself as 
a victim to appease Divine Justice that the country 
might be spared : God accepted the sacrifice, a time 
of plenty followed and the virgin was afflicted with 
the terrible disease of which she died on August i^th 
1537. // was for Dona Sancha that B. John of 
Avila wrote his celebrated treatise called " Audi 
Filial Her life has been written by Father 
Martin de Roa, S. J. 

Devout servant of Jesus Christ, 

I cannot find words to 
express my joy at hearing that you, who might 



Letter 11 35 

easily have made an advantageous marriage in 
the world, have resolved to take the King of 
Heaven for your Spouse. The tidings, although 
new to me, as I had not been told it, yet was 
not altogether unexpected, for I had already 
secretly chosen you to be consecrated to the 
Lord Who created you, and I had begged you 
of Him as a great favour that I might offer you 
to Him. May His Name be for ever blessed 
for granting me far more than I thought of 
asking. What else was the happiness you felt 
at having freed yourself from the miseries of 
this world, and at having received the pledge of 
love from the celestial King, but a sign that 
your change of plans proceeded, not from your 
own inconstancy, but from God, Who had put 
the desire into your heart. The happiness came 
from him as a testimony and pledge of the 
many great and pure joys He will give you if 
you prove faithful to Him. The least of these 
is incomparably better than husband, children, 
riches, or anything else this world can give. 
Would that you knew by experience how sweet 
God is to those who forsake created things to 
gaze on their Creator! How tenderly the 
Divine Spouse cherishes those who cast away 
all transitory joys. They are like the chaste 
turtle doves which refuse all earthly comfort 
and long only for the love of their Lord in 
Heaven, and like the dove which returned from 
her flight from the ark to her master s hand as 
pure as when she left him, undefiled by having 



36 Saint yohn of Avila 

touched any dead body even with her feet. Is 
anything the world contains of less account 
than a corpse full of corruption ? Why unite 
ourselves with what will only contaminate us? 
For the bitterness its joys leave behind is a 
thousand times greater than any pleasure they 
give us. Return heartfelt thanks to Christ for 
the light to distinguish between the priceless 
and the worthless, between eternal and temporal 
things, between God and a mortal man. Be 
grateful to Him for grace to make the blessed 
choice and determination to cleave to God and 
refuse an earthly husband, and for love of a 
Divine union to reject human wedlock, however 
advantageous. Be loyal to Him you choose 
for your Bridegroom; you will see why He is 
called the pure Spouse of virgins, and will find 
all joys in Him. Your union will not resemble 
earthly marriages, in which a little happiness 
is succeeded by bitter repentance; not only will 
it please you at first, but the more you dwell 
with our Lord the better you will know Him 
and the more dearly will you love Him. Christ 
is not like a man, whose faults we discover on 
intimacy, as one who appears to be a good husband 
on the wedding day, but who shortly proves to 
be one impossible to live with. There is nothing 
in our Lord to displease us, nor in our Blessed 
Lady, who is the mother of her Son s brides. 
Blessed be the hour in which you took this 
resolve, and far more blessed the time when 
your Spouse will visit you with such graces as 



Letter III 37 

to make you cry " O my Lord, how have I 
deserved to find Thy hidden treasure? A thou 
sand lives would have been too little to give in 
order to purchase it! " What happy and fortunate 
espousals! What joy will they not bring both to 
heaven and earth ? God the Father delights to 
see souls so love His Only-Begotten Son as to 
give up all human affections for Him, and 
renounce not only those pleasures forbidden by 
His command, but even the lawful tie of 
marriage. To refuse for Christ s sake what is 
permissible is a proof of fervent love for Him. 
The Son is the Bridegroom; He died not only 
that some might love Him with purity of soul, 
but that others should consecrate to Him the 
chastity of their bodies. The Holy Ghost is 
immaculate and adverse to all impurity. When 
He finds that a soul despises carnal pleasures, 
He watches over it, fills it with spiritual 
consolations and never leaves it unsatisfied since 
it has refused earthly consolations. Our Blessed 
Lady is the Mother of the Spouse, Whom she 
closely resembles, being most loving and benign. 
She is the Queen of virgins, their protector 
and their advocate; and rejoices to see virginity 
flourish on earth, for it is the flower she planted 
there. Nor is the wedding without pages to 
attend it, for the angels are the servants of the 
King of heaven, always ready to do His bidding. 
Children, too, which the world so desires, 
spring from this union; they are born without 
pain, they give no trouble to educate, nor bring 



38 Blessed John of Avila 

sorrow by turning out badly, or dying young. 
The children of this marriage are good works, 
which may well be called the fruit of Christians. 
What a joy for the soul to conceive the purpose 
of giving an alms to the poor or of performing 
some other good works, and to give it birth by 
practising it. These children bring both hap 
piness and honour to their mother. She has 
no need of finding a dowry, for they will bring 
one rich enough to purchase heaven for her. 
They will obtain for her such peace of mind 
that she will lie down to sleep at night more 
calm and satisfied than if she were mistress of the 
earth with all its pleasures. Now, tell me, what 
is there in the world, though worth its weight in 
gold, which can approach to such gains as these? 
For one hour of pleasure here, we suffer a 
hundred hours of pain: and if there exists 
happiness without alloy, it will not last for ever, 
for either the wife or the husband will die, and 
so all will end in sorrow. Even if the children do 
not die first, their mother weeps at parting 
from them. Rejoice! then, Bride of Christ, for 
your Spouse is immortal, and at your death 
your good works, which are your offspring, 
will surround you. You will not suffer grief 
at leaving them, for they will accompany you to 
God s throne; there they will more than repay 
all the pain and labour they have cost, and their 
mother will be welcomed for her children s 
sake. Death will not dissolve this marriage, 
but rather unite the Bride and Bridegroom 



Letter III 39 

closer to one another. Christ will deliver you, 
for He is the Lord of life and death, and no 
devil shall dare to touch you, whom God has 
taken under his protection and honoured with 
the name of Spouse. The angels will come to 
minister to you, and present you to Almighty 
God; singing praises to Him and calling down 
benedictions on you, they will say: "Come 
Bride of Christ, and receive the crown He has 
prepared for thee." Our Lady, too, will be 
there, with many other virgins who have gladly 
trodden the same path on earth. Thus you 
will leave this world with your fellow-virgins 
and ascend to the nuptial chamber which our 
Lord has prepared for you, where you will 
always enjoy riches, plenty and happiness in 
the house and in the presence of God. You 
will be absorbed in incessant contemplation of 
His infinite beauty; one hour of such joy is 
a reward greater than could be deserved by all 
that you have suffered, or that has been, or ever 
will be, borne by the whole human race. All 
good things will be yours; you will have reached 
the end for which you were created, and will 
possess God more fully than can be told or 
imagined. Your soul will overflow with joy, 
like one who is in a sea of delights, surrounding 
him on every side. Then you will see, praise, 
enjoy and possess the Lord of all things, and 
will cry out: "I have Him Whom I have 
loved; I have found Him I sought for. He, for 
Whom I renounced the world, has become my 



40 Blessed yohn of Avila 

wages and my reward, and Him will I praise 
and love unto endless ages." Amen. 



letter to 

TO A PRIEST, ON DUE PREPARATION FOR 
SAYING MASS. 

From bis childhood Blessed John of Avila had a 
most ardent love for the Blessed Sacrament of the 
Altar. He spent two hours every morning in 
preparing to say Holy Mass and another hour in 
thanksgiving; and sometimes he took two or three hours 
to celebrate it. His great zeal for training priests 
was an outcome of this devotion, and he spared no 
effort to inculcate a like affection for this sacred 
Mystery on priests under his direction. During the 
infirmities of his later years, his greatest relief was 
to write about the Holy Eucharist and he has left 
many treatises and sermons on this subject. 

Very Reverend Father, 

I beseech our Lord that 

my delay in answering you may be compensated 
by the soundness of the doctrine contained in 
my letter, and by the help it may bring your 
soul, for your request is one of serious import, 
and requires a suitable reply. 




Letter IV 41 

You wish to know what is the best preparation 
to make before offering the most Holy Sacrament 
of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus 
Christ, and the most profitable considerations to 
bear in mind during the celebration. You ask 
this because you fear lest, for want of due dis 
positions, that which ought to bring great 
blessings to your soul should injure it instead. 
Men s bodies, as you know, are of very various 
temperaments, and there is just as great a dis 
similarity in the constitution of their minds, for 
God bestows very diverse gifts upon different 
individuals. He does not lead all by the same 
path, therefore it is impossible to fix upon any 
devotion as the most suitable during Mass, but 
what our Creator and Redeemer puts into the 
heart, and what moves it most to piety is the 
best. These things are not matters of faith, 
and there is no certain rule about them, and if 
anyone has reason to think that his dispositions 
and preparation for this Mystery are instigated 
by God, there is no reason to change from them 
until our Lord should inspire him so to do. 
This should be ascertained by laying the matter 
before some experienced person and following 
his advice. Some have no special attraction for 
any one form of devotion at this time, and they, 
too, ought tc consult some one as to their 
interior dispositions, so as to know whether 
they should allow themselves to be led by 
motives of love or fear, of sadness or joy; and 
how to apply the remedies most suitable to 



42 Blessed "John of Aw la 

their needs. From what you have told me 
about yourself, I consider that you have made 
progress in virtue, and that it would be best 
for you to practise yourself in considerations 
proper to excite in you fervent love and 
reverence. For this purpose, I know of nothing 
better than to meditate on the fact that our 
Lord, with Whom we are to treat, is both God 
and man, and to think over the reasons for 
which He comes down upon the altar. Surely 
such a stroke of love 1 should be enough to 
awaken anyone from the slumber of indifference. 
Let such a one reflect upon this Mystery and 
say to himself: " It is God Almighty Who will 
come down upon the altar at the words of 
Consecration: I shall hold Him in my hands, 
and converse with Him, and receive Him into 
my breast." If only we remember this, and if, 
by the help of God s Holy Spirit, it penetrate 
our soul, it will suffice, and more than suffice, 
to enable us, frail mortals as we are, to perform 
this sacred duty as we ought. 

Who can help being inflamed by love on 
thinking that he is about to receive the Infinite 
Goodness within his bosom? Who would not 
tremble with reverential fear in that Presence, 
before which the powers of heaven are awed? 
Who would not resolve never to offend Him, 
but to praise and serve Him evermore? Is it 

1 At the mere mention of the Blessed Sacrament, Blessed John 
would often exclaim, with tears coursing down his cheeks : " O great 
stroke of love ! O great stroke of love ! " 



Letter IV 43 

possible for anyone not to be confounded and 
overwhelmed with grief at having sinned against 
that great Lord Whom he bears in his hands? 
Can the Christian fail to trust such a pledge, 
or can he want for strength to walk the way 
of penance through the desert of this world, 
nourished by such food? In short, such con 
siderations, by God s help, entirely change and 
possess the soul, and draw it out of itself, at 
one time, by feelings of reverence, at another, 
by love, and yet again, by the strong emotion 
caused by the realisation of Christ s presence. 
Although these thoughts do not inevitably 
produce this result, yet unless the heart hardens 
itself into stone against their influence, they 
strongly conduce to it. Let your mind then 
dwell on such reflections; listen to the cry: 
" Behold, the Bridegroom cometh,"-(St. Matth. 
XXV. 6.), your God cometh! Retire into the 
secresy of your own heart, and open it to receive 
what is wont to come from so powerful a Light. 
Beseech this same Lord that, as He has deigned 
to place Himself within your hands, He will 
give you the further grace to esteem, and 
venerate, and love Him as you should. Beg 
Him fervently not to permit you to be in the 
presence of His Majesty but with reverence, 
and fear, and love. Endeavour constantly to 
have a fitting sense of our Lord s presence, even 
should you contemplate no other part of this 
Mystery. 
Think how men when they have due respect 



44 Blessed John of Avila 

for the king, stand before him with gravity and 
reverence even though they be silent. Better 
still, picture in your mind how the highest in 
the court of heaven behave in the presence of 
the Infinite Majesty. See how they tremble at 
the remembrance of their own littleness, and 
burn with the fire of love, so that they appear 
to be consumed in its furnace. Imagine yourself 
in the company of these, who are so gloriously 
adorned; who are so reverent and so fervent in 
God s service, and being in such society and stand 
ing before so great a King, strive to feel as you 
should at such a time, even though you meditate 
on no other point. I wish to show you how it 
is one thing to be able to speak fitly to the 
king, and another to know how to conduct 
yourself becomingly in his presence, although 
you may have simply to stand by in silence. 
This is that union with our Lord which should 
keep you as closely united to Him during 
Mass as you are in the interior of your heart 
when alone with Him in your cell, and which 
will prevent your being distracted by the words 
you have to pronounce. You must, however, 
pay fitting attention to the Liturgy, while 
accustoming yourself at the same time to keep 
your mind fixed on God s presence. O great 
God, what should not be your feelings when 
you hold in your hands Him Who elected our 
Lady and enriched her with celestial graces to 
fit her to minister to the God made man! 
Compare her hands, her arms, her eyes, with 



Letter IV 45 

your own! The very thought should cover 
you with confusion. What stringent obligations 
do such benefits lay upon you! What care 
must you not take to keep yourself wholly for 
Him Who honours you in such a way as to 
place Himself in your hands, and comes into 
them when you pronounce the words of 
Consecration! 

These, Reverend Father, are no mere words, 
nor lifeless thoughts, but they are arrows shot 
from the strong bow of God Himself, which 
pierce and wholly transform the heart, so that 
when Mass is over, the mind ponders on our 
Lord s words : " Scitis quid fecerim vobis ? 
Know you what I have done to you? " (St. John 
XIII. 12). Would that it were possible for a 
man to understand " what our Lord has done 
for us " in that hour, and to taste Him with the 
palate of the soul! Oh that man had scales that 
could rightly weigh this benefit ! How happy 
would he be, even in this world! When Mass 
is over, he would feel a loathing for all creatures, 
their society would be a torment to him, while 
his only joy would be to remember "what the 
Lord had done to him, " until he should say 
Mass again next day. 

If God should ever give you this light, you 
will realise what shame and sorrow you ought 
to feel on approaching the altar without it, but 
he whom it has never illuminated knows not 
the torture of losing it. Besides the consideration 
of Who it is that comes down upon the altar, 



46 Blessed yohn of Avila 

you may also meditate on why He comes, and 
you will see a semblance of the love shown in 
our Lord s Incarnation, Nativity, Life, and 
Death, and how these mysteries are renewed 
in the Holy Sacrifice of the altar. If you 
could enter into the very Heart of our Lord, 
and if He would vouchsafe to show you that 
the reason of His coming down upon the altar 
is an impassioned and strong affection, which 
will brook no separation between the Lover 
and His beloved, your soul would swoon away 
before the very sight of such a marvel. The 
mind is greatly moved by realising Christ s 
presence on the altar, but when it further reflects 
that He comes to us because His affection for 
us is like that of the betrothed for his bride, 
which will not allow him to pass a single day 
without seeing and conversing with her, the 
Christian wishes he had a thousand hearts 
wherewith to make a fitting return for such 
love. He longs to cry out with St. Augustine: 
" Domine, quid tibi sum, quia jubes me diligere 
te? Quid tibi sum? Lord, what am I to Thee, 
that Thou shouldst bid me love Thee? What 
am I to Thee?" Why dost thou so fervently 
desire to see and to embrace me? Thou, Who 
dost dwell in heaven in company with those 
who understand so well how Thou shouldst be 
served and loved, dost come to me, who only 
know how to offend Thee or to render Thee 
slack service. Canst not Thou, then, O my 
Lord, be happy without me, that my love 



Letter IV 47 

should draw Thee down to me? Oh, blessed 
mayst Thou be, Who being what Thou art, 
hast yet set Thy heart upon such a creature as 
me! Can it be that Thou, King as Thou art, 
dost come here and dost place Thyself in my 
hands, and seem to say: "I died once for thy 
sake and I come to thee now to show thee that 
I do not repent of it, but on the contrary that, 
if there were need, I would give my life for 
thee a second time?" Who could remain 
unmoved by such love? Who could hide 
himself, O Lord, from Thy burning Heart, 
which warms our own by Its very presence, and 
is like a mighty furnace, throwing out sparks 
of fire on all around it? Such a Lord as this, 
dear Reverend Father, visits us from heaven, 
and we, wretches as we are, hold intercourse 
with Him and receive Him within our breasts! 
Let us now conclude our discourse on this 
great Mystery, so worthy of being meditated on 
and understood. Let us beg our Lord that as 
He has already done us one favour, He will 
grant us a second, for unless we appreciate His 
blessings, and thank, and serve Him for them 
as He deserves, they will benefit us little. 
Rather, as St. Bernard says of an ungrateful 
man: " Eo ipso pessimus, quo optimus. The 
greater his gain ought to be, the greater is his 
loss." Let us watch over our conduct during 
the day, lest Christ punish our faults when we 
are at the altar. Let us ever bear in mind the 
thought: " I have received our Lord and sat at 



48 Blessed John of Avila 

. 
His table; tomorrow I shall do the same." By 

this means we shall avoid sin and have the 
courage to do what is right, for our Lord is 
wont to reward at the altar what is done away 
from the altar. To conclude, I would remind 
you how, when Jesus was the guest of Simon 
the Pharisee, He complained that His host 
gave Him no water for His feet, and kissed not 
His face, to show us that when He enters our 
house He would have us wash His feet with tears 
for our sins and manifest our love as the kiss 
of peace. May our Lord bestow on you both 
for yourself and for your neighbours this peace, 
which is born of perfect love, and may you 
grieve both for your own sins against God and 
those which other men commit against Him. 
I pray that you may enjoy this peace one day 
in heaven, and also that you may hold God s 
interests dearer than your own, because of the 
greater love you bear Him. I beg of you, for 
His sake, that if there be aught in this letter 
which requires amending you will correct it for 
me, and thank God for any good it may contain, 
and I ask you to remember me when you are 
at His altar. 



Letter V 49 



Letter t) 

TO A WIDOW, CONSOLING HER FOR THE DEATH 
OF HER HUSBAND. 

Madam, 

I have delayed writing to 

you, for I thought that my words could do 
little to mitigate the great sorrow which they 
tell me you are suffering. It seemed to me 
that I could help you better by interceding on 
your behalf with the God of all consolation, 
than by anything I could say. However, I am 
strongly urged to send you a letter, and as it is 
so much desired and our Lord is able to fulfil 
His purposes even by such means as this, I must 
not fail to comply with the request. God grant 
that my words may bring to your heart the 
comfort I wish it. 

It is our Lord s will that you should taste 
of the sorrows of this vale of tears, and not of 
the milder but of the most bitter kind. May 
His Name be ever blessed, His judgments 
adored and His will fulfilled, for the creature 
owes its Creator reverence and subjection in all 
things, be they pleasant or painful. To test 
our obedience, and to teach us what great things 
we are bound to do and to suffer for so great 
a Master, God is wont to deprive us of what is 
as dear to us as the light of our eyes. 

Abraham had a strong affection for his son 

Fel. I. , 



50 Blessed John of Aw la 

Isaac, and that was the point on which the 
Almighty tried him. Job fondly loved his 
seven sons, and God took them from him in 
one day. In this manner He treats all those 
who are dear to Him, that they may testify 
their love for Him, while He bestows great 
graces on them by this means. 

I know that human nature cannot understand 
this. It thinks only of the grief and the loss, 
and cares for nothing else. But if God dwells 
in us, we must restrain our feelings, and make 
them subservient to reason and to His will. 
Whatever our suffering may be, we must not 
let it overwhelm us. Remember our Lord s 
anguish, which wrung from Him a sweat of 
blood, and made Him cry out: "Father, not 
my will but thine be done." If we would be 
known as His disciples we must say the same, 
for as His servants on earth, and His companions 
in heaven, He will have none but those who 
take up their cross and follow Him, as sheep 
do their shepherd, even though the path lead 
to death. 

Tell me, what right have we to complain of 
our trials, for they enable us to rid ourselves 
of our sins and make us like to the Son of God? 
It would be monstrous for slaves to refuse to 
obey a law their master kept, or for an adopted 
son to rebel against what the true son bore. 
Who was ever more beloved by the Eternal 
Father than His Only-begotten Son? Yet who 
was ever afflicted with so many sufferings as 



Letter V 51 

He ? He was the " Man of sorrows, and 
acquainted with grief." Count the drops of 
water in the ocean, and then you may number 
His afflictions. As the Son of God endured 
such anguish, being sorrowful even unto death, 
ought we to pass our lives without tasting one 
drop of the vinegar and gall with Him? How 
ashamed should we feel at seeking to share His 
joys, but leaving Him alone in His agony! 
Let none deceive themselves, but let them feel 
assured that, as the King of heaven entered 
His kingdom through tribulations, we must 
reach it by the same path. There is but one 
way, " Christ, and Christ crucified." If we 
seek a different road, we shall not find it. We 
should lose ourselves by any other path, and find 
that, however hard the sufferings of this world 
may be, those in the next world are far worse. 
Oh! blindness of the sons of Adam, who think 
nothing of the future as long as they can enjoy 
the present; who care not for what profits them, 
but only for what pleases them, and subordinate 
their reason to their passions. They weep 
when they ought to be glad, and rejoice when 
they have cause to mourn. Earthly happiness, 
like smoke, gradually fades away until it is no 
more seen. The years we pass here are but as 
a brief dream, from which we awake to find that 
it has all been an illusion. When sorrow comes 
to us, however light it may be, we forget our 
past joys, and the remembrance of them is only 
grier a to us. 



53 Blessed John of Avila 

If this world is so treacherous a delusion, 
why not seek the other? Day by day we see 
our life slipping from us; let us strive for that 
which will bring us eternal happiness. If, in 
the past, prosperity has often made us think 
that we could find happiness here, may our 
eyes be anointed with the gall of suffering, so 
as to give us light to see the misery of this 
world, which is not our own country, but a land 
of wretched exile. Let us raise our hearts, that 
our conversation may be in heaven. Our Lord 
has sent you this trial to make you cling closer 
to Him, since you have less on earth for which 
to care. Do not fancy that He takes pleasure 
in your pain: for He is merciful, and feels 
a tender pity for your tears. He has embittered 
your cup with this drop of wormwood so that, 
as all human consolation is taken from you, 
your heart may rest on Him alone. God has 
deprived you of one happiness only to give you 
another in its place, as is His wont: He has 
taken your husband from you, that He Himself 
may fill his place, for He is called the " Father of 
the forsaken." Your widowhood will bring with 
it many trials, and you will often miss your 
husband s care: many of your friends will show 
you but little kindness or fidelity, and some 
will even prove ungrateful. When this is so, 
God wishes you to have recourse to Him, and 
to make Him the confidant of all your trouble. 
Open your soul to Him as your true Father. 
If you call on Him with all your heart and 



Letter V 53 

trust yourself in His hands, you will find Him 
a sure refuge in all your difficulties, and a guide 
on your way. Without knowing how, you 
will often find that your affairs have succeeded 
beyond your highest expectations. Experience 
will show you how true a friend the Almighty 
is to those in tribulation; how He dwells with 
them and provides for them. If, sometimes, 
He does not grant all you desire, it will be to 
give you something that is better for you; this 
is how the heavenly Physician treats the sick 
who go to Him wishing to be cured, rather 
than to taste pleasant medicines. Do not with 
draw yourself from His hands, however painful 
His remedies may be. Ask Him not to do 
your will in what He does, but to do His own. 

Let prayers and tears be your weapons, and 
these, not useless tears for what our Lord has 
taken from you, but life-giving tears, which 
may gain pardon for your husband s soul and 
salvation for your own. 

For what purpose, dear Lady, does the 
unmeasured grief serve to which they tell me 
you yield, except to add sin to sorrow? For, 
you know, that as we should not indulge in 
foolish mirth, neither must we indulge in 

O 

excessive grief; but both in the one and the 
other we must be obedient to God s holy law. 
Why do you complain? Why, I ask, do you 
complain? Either you are a sinner, and this 
affliction is to cleanse your soul, or you are 
righteous, and must be tried, that you may win 



54 Blessed John of Avila 

your crown. Which ever you be, it is right 
that you should render heart-felt thanks to your 
Creator, that you should be resolute in loving 
the end to be gained by your sufferings, nauseous 
as the medicine may be. This is what the 
Holy Scriptures mean when they relate how 
Esther kissed the top of King Assuerus rod. 1 
Let not the years pass in insatiate sorrow, 
but lift up your heart to our Lord, and prepare 
yourself for that passage from life which you 
have seen others take before. You have already 
yielded enough to nature: dry your eyes, and 
spend not the time which was given you to 
gain eternal life in mourning over death. 
Remember how our Lord drove from the house 
those who were mourning the death of a young 
maiden, saying: " She is not dead, but sleepeth," 
in peaceful rest, so does your husband, for 
he both lived and died a true servant of Christ. 
Why should you be so grieved because God 
has taken the man you loved from this unhappy 
world into the place of salvation? If it bring 
you trials, accept them willingly, that your 
spouse may rest in peace. If his absence afflict 
you, take comfort by the thought that you will 
soon rejoin him, for the days of this life are 
brief, and it is but of little consequence which 
of us dies first. It is well to believe that our 
Lord took him because he was ready for death, 
and that you have been left here that you may 
prepare yourself for it. You served God 

1 Esther v. 2. 



Letter V 55 

earnestly during your married life; continue to 
do so now that you live in the state of widow 
hood; accept its special trials with patience, so 
that if you gained thirty-fold before, you may 
now earn sixty-fold. Thus, although your life 
may not be a very happy one, it will greatly 
profit your soul, for by it you will purge away 
your sins, you will imitate Christ on the cross, 
and you will hold the certain hope of gaining 
His eternal kingdom. To this end, with tears 
and prayers you must beg our Lord for His 
grace : you must read books of devotion, and 
receive the Celestial Bread of the most Blessed 
Sacrament. Raise up your dejected heart and 
take courage to go on your way ; you have a 
long road to traverse before you can reach 
heaven, and you will not arrive there without 
suffering more afflictions still. The gem you 
desire to win is of inestimable value, and no 
price can be too great to purchase it. God 
never costs too dear, however much we pay for 
Him. Rejoice in the hope of possessing Him, 
for He is one day to be yours. Do not 
murmur at your troubles, but say: "I look for 
so great a good to come, that I do not feel my 
present misery. " I pray and hope that our 
Lord Jesus Christ may accomplish all this in 
your soul. 



56 Blessed John of Avila 



Letter tu 

TO AN INVALID LADY. 

Madam, 

I have heard of your illness, 
and cannot say I am sorry for it; for if it is 
caused by excess of penance, it proves that your 
mortifications have been real, and if our Lord 
has sent it, it should be welcome as the share 
He gives you in His cross. Although, God 
knows, I am grieved at your pain, yet, on the 
other hand, I am glad, because it will profit one 
whose progress I have so much at heart. 

I do not desire comfort for my children, but 
stripes and afflictions; the time for consolation 
will come hereafter. Ever keep the cross before 
your eyes, and unite your heart to Him Who 
placed Himself upon it. Do not be satisfied 
until suffering becomes sweet to you, for that is 
the sign of true love. You must not think you 
are to be pitied; both in heaven and in this 
world there are many who have a warm affection 
for you, and your sufferings come from the 
loving providence of God. 

Let not your faith and love be weakened by 
your pain and trouble. A large fire is increased, 
rather than quenched by the wind; so, though 
a weak love of God is, like a candle, easily 
extinguished by the first puff of air, yet true 



Letter VI 57 

chanty gains force and courage by its trials. 
This is the fire which comes down from heaven 
which no water of tribulation can extinguish. 

Our Lord bids you love Him; this does not 
allow of self indulgence. You must hate your 
soul for the love of Christ; deny and mortify 
yourself to honour Him and make yourself 
pleasing and acceptable to Him. If you love, 
and wish to enjoy Him, you must resolve to 
forget yourself. You must pass through sharp 
trials before you can see God face to face. If 
you desire Him to dwell in your heart, empty 
it of yourself and of all creatures. 

The Almighty does not wish you to feel 
lonely and sorrowful out of any ill will He 
bears you, but because His blessed Son was 
afflicted, and God would not have us unlike 
Him. Nothing pleases Him so well as to see 
a resemblance to His Only-Begotten Son in us. 
What so touches the soul as to see our Lord 
upon the cross, tortured for the love of us? 
The more afflicted and deformed by pain He 
appears, the more beautiful He seems to us: so 
the more we suffer for Him, the better will His 
Father love to look on us. Thus we strive to 
beautify our souls with the crimson hue of 
suffering to win God s favour, just as fashionable 
women suffer pain and take trouble to attract 
the admiration of men. Our hearts must be 
changed in order to satisfy God; they must be 
purified as gold from which the dross is melted 
by fire before it comes from the crucible bright 



58 Blessed John of Avila 

and glittering. We should be ashamed of our 
weak efforts to please God, if only we realised 
the importance of gaining His approval, for we 
ought to be willing to shed our blood to gain 
His love. While pondering over this truth, 
a holy hermit saw a woman of the world pass 
by, magnificently dressed and bejewelled. He 
burst into tears, exclaiming: "I beseech Thee 
to pardon me, O Lord, for this woman in one 
day takes more trouble to please men, than 
I have done in many years to please Thee!" 

The love of God does not consist in mere 
words, but in sorrow and bitter sufferings, in 
being despised by the world, abandoned by all 
creatures, and, it may seem, at times, in the 
withdrawal of even our Creator s favour. In 
spite of all these trials, the Christian s courage 
must be firm; he must not complain, nor lose 
heart; he should imitate the martyr who, while 
they were disembowelling him and tearing the 
flesh from his bones with iron hooks, had no 
word on his lips but the Name of Jesus, nor 
any thought in his heart but " Blessed be God." 

1 The monk was St. Nonnus, Bishop of Heliopolis, and the woman 
St. Pelagia, an actress at Antioch, of bad repute, who had formerly 
been a catechumen. A few days after the incident recorded, she heard 
St. Nonnus preach a sermon on the Last Judgment, which so touched 
her heart, that she went to him and with many tears, begged him to 
baptise her. He did so, and, giving all her riches to the poor, she 
went to the Holy Land, where, under the name of Pelagius, she spent 
many years in penance, shut up in a narrow cell with only a small 
aperture for a window. She acquired the reputation of a Saint, and at 
her death, the people were surprised to discover that she was not 
a man: the virgins of the neighbourhood bore her body to their church 
as a rich treasure. 



Letter VI 59 

He was willing and resolute to bear even greater 
torments, if it pleased God to send them. 

Affliction, when borne for Christ, is both 
a gift and a grace, which He only bestows on 
His favourites. It is an act of great mercy to 
let off with a few cuffs a criminal who has been 
sentenced to a flogging; and if we can expiate 
the punishment due to us in the next world by 
suffering here, let us endeavour to satisfy God s 
justice on earth, so that at our death we may 
behold His face without delay. Let us lead 
lives of penance during our exile here, that 
when we die we may enter at once into our 
heavenly country. 

St. Augustine says that it is wronging a martyr 
to pray for him after his death, for martyrdom 
makes the soul fly straight to heaven. Let us 
strive to be martyrs by patience, for though our 
pains may be less severe, they yet last longer. 
We ought not to wish for a happy life, but 
prefer a martyrdom on earth; it was our Lord s 
portion, and He wishes ours to be the same. 
Some have died as martyrs for the faith, and 
others have gone to heaven without doing so, 
but we must all be martyrs of love, if we wish 
to arrive there. This love must be a torment 
and a pain to us, because of the offence given 
to God by ourselves and others; it must deprive 
us of all comfort in life, and load our shoulders 
with the cross. It must make us embrace 
hardships and overcome them by the burning 
charity God has kindled in us. This love so 



60 Blessed yohn of Avila 

carries us out of ourselves that it makes us 
perfectly insensible to dishonour, as wine takes 
away the reason of a drunkard. Like all strong 
affection, it makes a man forget himself, and 
care only for his Beloved, Who in this case, is 
God Himself, and His most holy will. Though 
this affection seems to treat us cruelly now, 
what mercy will it not gain hereafter for the 
soul that has been its living martyr! We cannot 
fully realise the strength of the love which 
tortures us here, and will console us in the next 
world. Let us believe what God has told us 
of it, and walk in the faith of His word, for we 
have still a long journey before us. Whether 
your afflictions be light but last long, or short 
and severe, from one or the other you cannot 
escape. Do not grieve at this, for if God sends 
you many sufferings, it is because your sins 
deserve them, and through them you will atone 
for your faults, as I pray God you may do. 

I do not wish you to go to Purgatory after 
my death, for perhaps there would be no one 
to take pity on your soul and endeavour to 
deliver it as I should; if you were to die first, 
I should have a hard task to set you free. 
Pardon my saying so, but it is not right that 
either you or I should think only of our own 
interests. Even if we knew we were to be 
tormented hereafter, we ought, while on earth, 
to muster strength to suffer out of love, because 
love needs no reward but itself. Christ died 
for love of us: let us suffer for love of Him. 



Letter VI 61 

He carried His cross: let us help Him to bear 
it. He was dishonoured, therefore 1 renounce 
honour: He suffered torments, let them come 
to me. He lived wanting many necessaries, let 
me go destitute. Jesus made Himself a stranger 
for me, let me have nothing in which my heart 
can rest. He died for me; may my life be 
a continual death for the love of Him. Oh! 
that I might say, " I live, now not I, but Christ 
liveth in me." (Gal. II. 20.) and that, Christ 
crucified, agonised, and abandoned by all save 
God. Behold Christ Whom I love! Upon the 
cross I seek Him, and away from it I do not 
wish to find Him! He may do with me what 
He will; I choose sorrow for my portion for 
His sake. Let Him decide whether to reward 
me or no; to suffer for Him is all I ask. The 
greatest boon I beg from my Saviour is to send 
me suffering, for it will prove my love for 
Him, and His for me, if He put me on the 
cross on which He stretched Himself. Although 
I seek nothing for myself, yet it is certain if I 
stay upon the cross, He will bear me to His 
Kingdom. 

To Him be glory, world without end! 



6 2 Saint yohn of Avila 



letter fcii 

TO A GENTLEMAN WHO WAS ILL. 

You may well be content to serve our Lord in 
illness, for when he calls people to suffer instead 
of working for Him, He is calling them to a 
higher state. During our earthly exile, it is 
most fitting that we should carry the cross with 
Christ, who loved it so dearly that He chose to 
die on it. We can do this better in sickness 
than in health, for illness is repugnant to flesh 
and blood and can never cause vain glory. 
Great were the works of Christ in His mortal 
life, but greater far were His sufferings, which 
exceeded those of the whole world. This idea 
explains St. James words: " My brethren, count 
it all joy, when you shall fall into divers tempt 
ations:" and again: "Patience hath a perfect 
work. " (St. James I. 2, 4). Receive your illness 
then willingly, and be grateful to our Lord 
Who sent it. If you bear this cross and burden 
well, He will send you interior and more painful 
trials, which He keeps for His dearest friends, 
to conform them to Himself. For though 
Christ s visible cross was great, it was not to be 
compared to that which, unknown to men, He 
bore in His soul. 

Though you may think that God has taken 
you away from other work because you per- 



Letter VII 63 

formed it badly, yet thank Him none the less 
for doing so. To be corrected by the hand of 
so loving a Father needs rather humility to 
restrain our excessive joy, than patience to bear 
our punishment well. However, I fear lest 
you may not profit by this sickness as you 
should, for sometimes beginners become lax in 
their religious duties when suffering from an 
illness which is not dangerous to life. How 
foolish it is to change physic into poison, and 
injure our souls with the thing God sends us 
for a remedy. Call on Him for aid with all 
your heart, that as He has weakened your body 
by His touch, your soul may run to Him the 
more swiftly. This infirmity is sent that your 
flesh may expiate its sins by suffering pain; so 
do not turn this chance of discharging your 
past debts into a time for incurring fresh ones. 

Watch carefully over your conduct: do not 
think your body must have everything it asks 
for, but by the aid of the Holy Ghost, offer it 
to Christ crucified, and He Who let Himself 
be placed between two thieves, will not drive 
you from Him. Although you cannot now 
keep up your customary reading and meditation 
as you would wish, still, do all you can without 
serious injury to your health. Our Lord is so 
good and so powerful that He gives strength 
to those He sees to be doing their best. Some 
times He bestows more favours on people who 
lie ill in bed and are unable to pray, than on 
others who spend hours in prayer. Perhaps 



64 Blessed "John of Avila 

He will show you this mercy, which depends 
solely on His will. 

In conclusion, I beg you, for the love of God, 
not to " be carried about by every wind of 
doctrine," (Eph. IV. 14.) but to preserve your 
high esteem for those persons through whose 
hands you have received divine mercy. Imitate 
the man in the Gospel who was born blind: he 
considered his cure a proof of his Master s 
goodness Who had worked it, and would let no 
one persuade him to the contrary. He said: 
"If he be a sinner, I know not: one thing 
I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see." 
(St. John IX. 25.). Though this man said: 
" If he be a sinner," yet evidently he was 
convinced of our Lord s justice, as is shown by 
his persistently maintaining it in his answers to 
the Jews, and also by Christ s making Himself 
known to him in the temple as the reward of 
his faith. 

I have heard accusations made against these 
Jesuit Fathers by people who are jealous of 
them, but I believe that neither these, nor any 
other charges that could be brought against 
them, have any true foundation. I wish you, 
however, to speak mildly in their defence and 
with moderation, for God takes such matters 
under His special protection, and wishes them 
to be borne with patience and sweetness. 

I beg our Blessed Lord Who died for you to 
remain with you. 



Letter nil 65 



Letter tnii 

ON PREPARATION FOR DEATH. 

You ask me to give you some advice about 
saving your soul: a demand most reasonable 
and worthy to be granted if only my ability 
were equal to my good will. 

When a man first has the use of his reason, 
he should begin so to regulate his life that 
when death comes his days may all have been 
spent in preparation for worthily receiving the 
crown of glory. When maturer age, the 
forerunner of death arrives, he must repent and 
make amends for any past negligence. This is 
the time to renew our courage and to exert 
ourselves to remedy the weaknesses of our 
youth and to devote ourselves with fervour to 
making ready for death. 

This preparation consists not only in setting 
ourselves free from both debts and mortal sin, 
but in doing penance for our past faults, so that 
when our good and evil deeds are put into the 
balance of justice, with the divine mercy added 
to the right side of the scale, our attachment to 
God s service may weigh as much as our former 
attachment to the world. We ought to give 
alms, to be charitable, devout, patient and 
humble, in order to compensate for our former 
defects in these virtues. Busy like a nouey- 

Fol. I. 



66 Blessed "John of Avila 

making bee, with a holy fervour, we should 
seek to get nearer and nearer to God; for at 
our time of life the hour approaches when we 
shall appear before Him. How shall we answer 
our Sovereign Judge, if we have spent carelessly 
those later years He has most mercifully given 
us, in which to amend the past and prepare 
ourselves for heaven? 

Therefore, care less for temporal things and 
attend instead to those which are more 
important. 

Withdraw your heart from the world before 
God takes your body from it: keep your mind 
in perfect peace however much it is occupied in 
business. A man who is travelling post haste 
concerning a matter which is of life and death 
to him, does not turn his head to look at 
anything as he passes. You must cultivate the 
same indifference to mundane matters. Say in 
your heart " I am being led captive to death 
what is this world to me? I am going to God; 
I do not wish to entangle myself in earthly 
things." If in spite of all our efforts, we 
often find our attention distracted from religious 
matters, what would it be if we took no pains 
to be recollected? Consider that you are only 
beginning to serve God: remember your former 
good resolutions and beg God to assist you in 
carrying them out, for you have more experience 
as to the best means of keeping them now than 
you had before. 

Your life consists in drawing nearer to God: 



Letter Fill 67 

to do this you must endeavour to detach 
yourself from visible things and remember that 
in a short time they will all be taken from you. 
Practise spiritual reading and prayer; go to 
confession and Holy Communion; and let the 
one object of your life be to serve God and to 
bear with things contrary to your will. Be 
most tender in your love for God and your 
neighbour; act in as charitable away as possible 
to others, and be firm as a rock in bearing 
the trials sent you by Divine Providence. 
Good works are of no use unless we bear the 
cross as well, nor do sufferings profit us unless 
we lead a Christian life. If this seem hard to 
us, let us contemplate our Lord and Master, 
and see how many were His labours and pains. 
What He was, that He wishes His followers to 
be, each in his own measure, for He asked and 
obtained from His Father that where He was 
there might His servants also be. Therefore 
we must not fear to follow Him in His pains 
here below and yet wish to share with Him in 
His present bliss. Although it be the more 
painful part to partake of His sorrows, yet it is 
the better, for we shall enjoy our Lord s presence 
more fully for having toiled for Him here. 
" If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign 
with Him." Do not let us be incredulous 
about this promised reward nor slow in trying 
to gain it, for after a brief time of toil we shall 
enjoy eternal happiness. 

Kindly consider this letter as written to your 



6 8 Blessed John of Avila 

wife as well as to yourself. You must help 
each other and walk together in the right path 
so as to be companions in heaven mutually 
enjoying the sight of God, for He has "joined 
you together on earth." 



letter ir 

WRITTEN TO A DYING JESUIT WHO WAS ONE 
OF BLESSED JOHN OF AVILA s DISCIPLES. 

THE grace of the Holy Ghost be ever with you. 

They tell me you are passing so swiftly on 
your way to the land of the living, that, even 
while I write this, you may already be enjoying 
the embraces of our sweetest Jesus. However, 
I am sending you my congratulations on your 
promotion to be prebendary 1 in the heavenly 
Jerusalem, where God is praised to all eternity 
and seen face to face. Go on your way, then, 
dearest Father, in that joyful, and thrice joyful 
hour, to the supreme Good, and enjoy Him 
for ever. Depart in that blessed hour, to dwell 
in the Bosom of the celestial Father, where He 

1 Blessed John playfully compares the position of a prebendary, who 
resides within the precincts of a Cathedral and constantly attends its 
services, to that of the Saints who " stand before the throne" of God 
and "rest not day nor night, saying Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God 
Almighty," and whose company the dying Jesuit hoped soon to join. 



Letter IX 6g 

receives those lambs which He fed with His 
grace and led with His staff. Then, at last, 
will you know what a favour our Lord did you 
in calling you to the religious life, and in giving 
you the grace to despise the world, and to follow 
Him by the way of the cross, for heaven will 
be the reward of your consecration to God s 
service and glory, and your payment for the 
cross you bore for Christ s love. 

Blessed be our Lord Jesus Christ for His 
goodness in bestowing such honours on the 
worms of the earth ; " raising up the needy from 
the dust, that he may sit with princes." 
(i Kings n. 8.) Welcome be the hour in which 
the body dies, and the soul ascends to take its 
seat among the princes, who dwell for ever in 
the presence of God. O day which ends all 
our sorrows and all our sins! O day on which 
we rise to heaven, and begin to serve God 
perfectly, without the pain and discouragement 
we experience here because we can only render 
Him scant service! Here we halt, and faint, 
whilst longing to please God and to give Him 
all our hearts; but in heaven this wish is so 
fully granted, that the whole man is employed 
in the worship of his Creator without let or 
impediment. 

Glory be to God Who hath gathered you so 
early into His granary, lest wickedness should 
alter your understanding, and Who will show 
you His bountiful loving kindness by granting 
you an eternity of bliss, in return for the few 



70 Blessed John of Avila 

years you have in this world dedicated to Him. 
Behold, Reverend Father, what a God He is! 
The reward earned by His grace is the fruit of 
His Passion. It is our blessed fate to have 
fallen into the hands of such a Lord, and to 
know Him, and to love Him, although, alas! 
with many imperfections. He cleanses us from 
our faults with His Blood; He gives us His 
Sacraments. His Fatherly love grants an easy 
pardon to our sins, and a generous reward for 
our services. He leads us through the Red 
Sea to the Promised Land, setting our sins as 
far apart from us as the East is from the West. 
He drowns them in His Precious Blood, so 
that, although we still see them, they are dead, 
and only incite us to praise our Lord, " Who 
hath thrown the horse and the rider into the 
sea." (Exod. XV.) Go, then, with God s 
blessing, to enjoy and rejoice in the riches of 
your tender Father, which He gained for you 
in bitter warfare by the shedding of His Blood, 
for He never fails to succour those who place 
their hope and love in Him. 

We shall all miss you, dear Father, and feel 
lonely without you, but as God calls you to 
this blessed lot, our love for you will make us 
happy in your gain. For, though we shall 
grieve at our loss, yet we shall rejoice for you, 
as the brothers of Rebecca did, when she left 
them to be espoused to Isaac, whose name 
signifies "joy-" Therefore we say to you: 
"Thou art our brother; mayst thou increase to 



Letter IX 71 

thousands of thousands, and may thy seed 
possess the gates of their enemies." (Gen. 
XXIV. 60.) 

It is not for me to counsel you how to 
prepare for this great festival, for there are 
those around you who can direct and help you 
to pass from the hands of men into those of 
God. May the Saviour, Who came into the 
world and was raised upon the cross for you, 
be your succour, so that though you walk 
through the valley of the shadow of death 
you may fear no evil. Cry to your Redeemer, 
for though you should be in the belly of the 
whale, He can hear you even there. Call upon 
His Blessed Mother, who is our Mother too; 
supplicate the saints, who are our fathers and 
our brethren, for with such aids as these you 
need not fear to lose the heavenly kingdom. 
If our Lord will you to pass through purgatory, 
may His Name be blessed, for with the hope 
of seeing Him, you will welcome its pains. 

May Christ who died for you, be with you 
at your death and receive your soul into His 
arms as it leaves this world. Say to Him, as 
He said to His Father: "Father, into Thy 
hands I commend my spirit," and I trust that 
in His mercy He will receive you as His son, 
and as the heir of God, and joint heir with 
Himself in His kingdom of heaven. 



J2 Blessed yohn of Avila 



letter r 

TO SOME FRIENDS, POSSIBLY THE JESUITS OF 

SALAMANCA, WHO WERE UNDERGOING CERTAIN 

PERSECUTIONS. 

" BLESSED be the God and Father of our Lord 
Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the 
God of all comfort, who comforteth us in all 
our tribulation; that we also may be able to 
comfort them who are in all distress, by the 
exhortation wherewith we also are exhorted by 
God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound 
in us, so also by Christ doth our comfort 
abound." (2. Cor. I. 3-5.) 

These are the words of the Apostle St. Paul. 
Thrice he was scourged with rods, five times 
with whips, and once he was stoned in such a 
way that he was left for dead. He was persecuted 
by men of all conditions, and exposed to all 
sorts of afflictions and trials, and this so often, 
that he says in another part of his writings: 
"we who live are always delivered unto death 
for Jesus sake: that the life also of Jesus may 
be made manifest in our mortal flesh." (2. Cor. 
IV. n.) In spite of all these sufferings he 
never murmured or complained of the way God 
treated him, as weak souls do; or gave way to 
grief as men do who care for their own honour 
and comfort; or prayed the Almighty to deliver 



Letter X 73 

him from his pains, like those who cannot 
understand their value and therefore desire to 
be freed from them. Unlike some Christians 
who shirk sufferings, he does not think them 
slight graces only. Far from it; rising above 
all ignorance and weakness, he blesses our Lord 
during his torments, and gives Him thanks for 
them as for a signal mercy. The Apostle holds 
himself happy to bear something in honour of 
Christ, Who bore such dishonour to raise us 
from the base condition in which our sins had 
placed us. For indeed our Lord beautified our 
souls and honoured us with the gift of His 
Spirit, and by adopting us as sons of God 
He gave us an earnest and pledge that from 
Him and through Him, we should one day 
enjoy the kingdom of heaven. 

O! my most dear brothers, God seeks to show 
you what a favour He does us, when the world 
thinks He punishes us. O! what an honour it 
is for us to be disgraced for seeking God s 
honour, and what glory we shall one day get 
for the affronts we suffer now! How merciful, 
loving, and gracious, are the arms our Lord 
holds out to receive those who are wounded in 
the combat for His sake! In this our true joy 
far exceeds every bitterness the sorrow of this 
world can give. If we are wise, we shall long 
for these caresses; for who, that understands 
true happiness, does not long for what is 
unmixed love and wholly to be desired? Be 
sure, that, if you wish for this, and to see and 



74 Blessed John of Avila 

enjoy heaven, the path of suffering is the safest 
to lead you there. This is the way which Christ 
and all His servants trod, and which He calls 
* the narrow way which leads to life. He 
taught us, that, if we wish to come to Him, 
we must follow Him, for it is not right that the 
Son of God should have endured dishonour, 
and the sons of men should pass through life 
without it. " For the disciple is not above his 
Master nor the servant above his Lord." 
(St. Matth. X. 24.) God forbid that our souls 
should find rest in, or choose any other lot but 
that of suffering beneath our Lord s cross. I 
know not if bearing the cross can be called 
" pain," for to my mind it is to repose on a bed 
of down and roses. 

O Jesus of Nazareth! name signifying "a 
flower," how sweet is Thine odour, which 
wakes in us desires of eternity, making us forget 
our sorrows, at the thought of Him for Whom 
we bear them and of the reward He will bestow 
on us for doing so. . Who that loves Thee, 
does not love Thee crucified? In that cross, 
Thou didst both seek and find me, didst cure 
and make me free, and, loving me, didst give 
Thy Life-Blood for me, by the hands of cruel 
wretches! 

Therefore on Thy cross I seek Thee: there 
do I find Thee, and finding Thee, Thou dost 
heal me and deliver me from myself, me, who 
only obstruct Thy love for me which is my 
salvation. Now, delivered from my self-love, 



Letter X 75 

which is Thine enemy, I give Thee my love, 
which though not equal to, is at least some poor 
imitation of, the excessive love Thou didst show 
upon the cross for me; in that loving Thee 
I suffer for Thee, as Thou for love didst die for 
me! But alas, what shame and sorrow must 
I feel! The many torments Thou didst bear 
for me witness to the greatness of Thy love, and 
yet I show how tepidly I love Thee in return, 
by the little I endure for Thy sake. Well do 
1 know, that there are few who deserve the 
great happiness of being marked as Thine own 
with the seal of the cross: yet think how sad it 
is for me to desire, and not to obtain, to ask and 
not to receive, especially when what I ask for is 
not joy , but afflictions for Thy sake! 

Tell me, why wilt Thou have me both for 
Thy herald, and Thine ensign-bearer to carry 
the standard of Thy Gospel, and yet wilt not 
permit me to wear Thy uniform? How ill it 
looks that I should be in the ranks of those 
who serve Thee, and yet not wear that garment 
with which thou wert so constantly, so willingly, 
and so entirely clothed! Tell us, O beloved 
Jesus, by Thy sweetest cross, was there a single 
day on which Thou didst put off Thy robe 
of suffering, to wrap Thyself in rest? Or didst 
Thou ever put off that white garment which so 
wore its way to Thy very Heart, that Thou 
didst say: "My soul is sorrowful even unto 
death." (St. Matth. XXVI. 38.) Ah no! 
Thou didst never rest, for Thou didst never 



j6 Blessed John of Avila 

cease to love us and therefore to suffer, for us! 
When they stripped Thee of Thy robe, they 
cut out for Thee upon the Cross, as upon 
a table, a cloak so long that it clothed Thee 
from Head to Foot, covering Thy Body and 
Hands, so that there was no part of Thee which 
was not dyed with Thy most precious Blood, 
and made crimson, and resplendent, and priceless. 
Thy Blood flowed from Thy Head with the 
thorns, from Thy Face with the blows, from Thy 
Hands with the nails, from Thy Feet with 
another nail, (most cruel indeed to Thee, but 
most precious to us,) and from Thy whole Body 
with stripes that could hardly be numbered. 
He, who, looking on Thee, loves himself and 
not Thee, does Thee great wrong. If, when 
the soul sees Thee in such a plight, it flies from 
the sufferings which would make it resemble 
Thee, its love for Thee is imperfect, for it does 
not wish to be made like to Thee, therefore it has 
but little desire to suffer for Thee. He who 
loves Thee with perfect love, dies to self for 
love of Thee crucified, and is more eager to be 
disgraced for Thy sake, than to receive all the 
honours that this world, which is both deceived 
and a deceiver, can give him. 

Let all things be accounted as nothing in 
comparison with thy Cross all that flourishes 
on earth and so quickly fades. Let worldlings 
blush for shame, for Thou hast fought them at 
such bitter costs to Thyself, and hast conquered 
by thy Cross. Let those who are counted 



Letter X 77 

among thy servants be abashed at not rejoicing 
at the world s antagonism to them, since thou 
wert reproached and abandoned and contradicted 
by it, blind as it is, for it neither sees nor can 
see, that Thou art the Truth. But I will hold 
fast to Thee, though all other things fail me 
for aught else is but misery and mere nothingness. 
I will wear no livery but Thine, though it 
would secure the whole world for me. For to 
own all which is not Thee, is but a burden and 
affliction rather than riches, but to possess Thee, 
and be possessed by Thee, is joy to the heart 
and true riches, for Thou art the one true Good. 
I have forgotten, my dear brothers, that I 
commenced by begging and admonishing you in 
Christ s Name not to be distressed or surprised 
at the persecutions, or rather the shadow of 
them, raised against us, as if they were strange 
or unusual for God s servants. For this is 
nothing but the proof, or examination of the 
lesson we have been learning for the last five or 
six years, which is " to suffer, to suffer for the 
love of Christ." Now it has come upon us, do 
not let it frighten us; do not let us be like 
children who will not repeat the lesson they 
have learned, but be strengthened in the Lord 
and in the power of His might. He will 
defend you for love of you, and though He is 
but One, yet Fie is more powerful than all the 
rest together, being omnipotent. Do not fear 
that He lacks wisdom, for He knows all things; 
and no one need fear being disturbed, who is 



78 Blessed John of Avila 

held fast to God by the three strong bonds of 
infinite love, power and wisdom. 

Care nothing for the menaces of your per 
secutors. As for myself, I tell you truly that 
their threats do not weigh a hair s weight with 
me, for I am entirely in the hands of Christ. 
I deeply pity their blindness, for the Gospel 
which I preached in their town is hidden from 
their sight. As St. Paul says: " the god of this 
world which is the devil, hath blinded the minds 
of unbelievers, that the light of the Gospel of 
the glory of Christ should not shine upon 
them." (2. Cor. IV. 4.) I earnestly desire 
and beg of God to be merciful to them, and 
give them blessings, in return for the curses 
they have heaped on others, and to give them 
glcry for their insults, or rather, what they have 
sought to do to me, for I hold that, in reality, 
the only true honour in this world is to be dis 
honoured for Christ s sake. 

Act in the same way, dear friends, and be 
followers of Him Who gave to the man, who 
had sold Him to His enemies, the kiss of peace 
and the name of friend, and Who cried out on 
the Cross: " Father forgive them, for they know 
not what they do." (St. Luke XXIII. 34.) 
Look upon all your fellow men as God s 
creatures, whom He desires to be saved, and 
you will find that you cannot wish harm to 
those for whom God has such good will. 
Remember how often I have told you we must 
love our enemies, and keep our heart at peace, 



Letter X 79 

speaking ill of no man. Be patient in this 
time of trial, for our Lord will soon bring about 
a change of circumstances. On no account 
desist from any good work you have commenced, 
for that would be most wrong. Be thoroughly 
convinced that He Whom you have followed is 
the Lord of heaven and earth, of life and of 
death, and that, in fine, though all the world 
should strive to prevent it, His truth must 
prevail. Endeavour to follow Him, and then 
you need fear neither men nor devils nor even 
the angels, if it were possible for them to be 
against you in this. 

Speak little with men, but much with God in 
prayer in the depths of your heart, for all good 
must come to us from Him. He wishes us to 
obtain it through prayer, and especially to keep 
before our minds the Passion of Jesus Christ 
our Lord. If you suffer anything by the tongues 
of wicked men, (and that is the only injury 
they can do you) take it as a satisfaction for 
your sins, and a special mercy from Christ. 
He uses them like a cloth to cleanse you from 
your faults, for they will be defiled by the foul 
things they say, while you will be purified by 
suffering, and your happiness in the next world 
made sure. I would however, on no account, 
have you think yourself any better than those 
whom you see now in error, for you do not 
know how long you may continue in the right 
path, nor how soon they may amend. Work 
out your salvation in fear and humility, and 



80 Blessed John of Avi la 

hope to reach heaven yourselves without think 
ing that your neighbour will never get there. 
Acknowledge the Almighty s mercies to you, 
without reflecting on other people s shortcomings, 
for you know that the history of the Pharisee 
and the Publican is intended for a warning to us. 

No sanctity is secure without the holy fear 
of God, in which I would have you "grow 
old," (Eccli. II. 6) as the Holy Scriptures say, 
by which they mean to teach us that we must 
not only begin with this fear, but persevere in it 
to the end. This fear is not irksome, but 
pleasant, and rids the heart of all levity: it keeps 
a man from self-confidence in his own merits, 
however good his actions may be, so that he 
leaves God to be the Judge both of himself and 
and of his neighbour, as St. Paul says: " Neither 
do I judge my own self, but he that judgeth 
me is the Lord." (i. Cor. IV. 3.) This is 
He Whom you must fear if you would continue 
in the right way, so that what you build up 
may not fall, but stand firmly, and rise upward 
until it reaches the most high God; which end 
is to be accomplished by love. 

I pray our Lord Jesus Christ to bestow this 
love on you. Amen. 

Pray fervently for me, as I believe you do, 
and I hope that He will hear you and allow me 
to continue serving you as in former times. 



Letter XI 8 1 



Letter ri 

TO CONSOLE A LADY GRIEVING FOR THE ABSENCE 
OF HER SON. 

Madam, 

I think that you must be feeling 
grief: much, however, as I desire your happiness, 
your spiritual progress is more to me, so that 
I would rather see you bearing trials with 
patience than enjoying peace and devotion. 
God is better pleased with submission in 
suffering than with gratitude in prosperity. 
Remember our Lady s sorrows: during the 
Passion alone, at the heart-rending sight of her 
Son being led to execution as a malefactor, 
bearing a heavy cross on His shoulders, and so 
altered that she scarcely recognised Him, she 
suffered more than has been borne by all the 
mothers in the world at being parted from their 
children. Think what must have been her 
woe, as she saw Him she loved more dearly 
than herself, pass thus from life! What must 
she have felt, as she held Him, Who was both 
the Son of God and her own child, dead in her 
arms, when all His cruel torments were ended! 
And then again, after Christ s Resurrection and 
Ascension into heaven, when she was separated 

Vol. I. 6 



82 Blessed John of Avila 

long years from Him, she felt His absence 
more keenly than other mothers feel separation 
from their sons, for her affection was greater 
than any they can have. 

If we glory in being our Lady s servants, 
should we not share in her dolours? As we 
gaze on her standing at the foot of our Lord s 
cross, let us contemplate her with a soul rilled as 
hers was with sorrow, for mourners cannot talk 
with the light-hearted. So let those who wish for 
union with the Blessed Virgin and her Son, desire 
some share in their sufferings. When in this 
world were afflictions ever wanting to this Mother 
and Son ? Was not sorrow always mingled 
with any joy that they had? Their life was but 
a painful exile and a heavy cross; until they left 
this world they experienced only trouble. At 
last they are at peace, but even now they do 
not wish their followers to think of that, but 
of the trials they bore while living here below. 

Our repose is being kept for the future and 
it will indeed be sweet. Here let us work 
manfully. Our Lord has many ready to share 
His table but few to partake of His sorrows, 
and it is for us to be among those few, if we 
would be in the number of His friends. Let 
us help Him to drink His chalice, for that will 
show that we love Him sincerely. It is no 
easy matter to be the friend of Jesus Christ. 
Suffering borne for Him is the only sure way 
to test which is the true and which the false 
friend. Although the draught may be bitter, 



Letter XI 83 

yet drink it think for Whom you take it; 
how soon its taste will pass away; what a reward 
it will bring you, and it will taste so sweet that 
you will complain that there is so little given 
you. Learn to love God as He loves you, and 
know that a true love will make you give 
yourself wholly to Him, and keep back nothing 
for yourself. Do not fear to place yourself in 
God s hands, abandoning yourself entirely to 
Him, for all He holds is safe, and all else will 
certainly be lost. Our Saviour has said : 
" He that loveth his life shall lose it, and he 
that hateth his life shall keep it." (St. John 
XII. 25.) Do not care for the present, as many 
have done, only to find themselves deceived at 
last; but lift your eyes to Heaven, for which 
you were created, and pray that you may get 
there, be the cost what it may. None of those 
who are already there have passed through the 
world without greater afflictions than you have; 
if some of them had less to bear, their tortures 
were incomparably more severe in Purgatory, 
for our Lord has ordained that none shall take 
part in His joys but they who have shared His 
pains. He has kept this rule with all souls 
beloved by Him, therefore let us not complain 
of it nor feel aggrieved, even if we had the 
option of passing through life without sharing 
in the pains He and His Mother bore. This 
is the road to heaven, let us walk in it; it is the 
purgatory of our sins, do not let us think it too 
hard. This is what God s friends must pass 



84 Blessed John of Avila 

through; let who will spend their time in 
pleasure. Our Lord told us, knowing well 
what was to come: "Amen, Amen, I say to 
you, that you shall lament and weep, but the 
world shall rejoice: and you shall be made 
sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into 
joy. A woman, when she is in labour, hath 
sorrow, because her hour is come: but when 
she hath brought forth the child, she remem- 
bereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man 
is born into the world. So also you now indeed 
have sorrow, but I will see you again and your 
heart shall rejoice. " (St. John XVI. 20-23). 
These are our Lord s words, and for the sake of 
the joys to come, forget your present pains, and 
wait patiently until you see our Lord, Who will 
come sooner than you expect Him. 



Letter XII 85 



Hetter rii 

TO A FRIEND, ON THE MANAGEMENT 
OF A HOUSEHOLD. 

I CONSIDER that it is by God s special Providence 
that it has fallen to your lot to have to bear 
with the person about whom you wrote to me. 
You have long known that you would have to 
suffer a great deal in every way, both great and 
small; and how else could this be accomplished? 
Besides, how is it possible to learn patience, 
mortification and humility, except in trials of a 
kind such as come from this person, and from 
other members of your household? For al 
though you may have made plenty of good 
resolutions to bear with others and mortify 
yourself, unless some one puts them to the test, 
they are dreams rather than realities. Valour 
must be shown in battle, or else it is but idle 
boasting. This seems to be the case with you, 
for when anything of the sort happens you are 
disturbed, and behave as badly as the person you 
are correcting. Patience must be kept at all 
times, and nothing is to be gained by avoiding 
the occasions of practising it. Your outward 
behaviour may be correct when you have 
nothing to try you, but if the root of the evil 
is within you, appearances are of no value. 



86 Blessed "John of Avila 

God brings you in contact with people of the 
kind you mention, so that you may master or 
control your great impetuosity. Be like that 
youth who, when he was insulted by an old 
man of Athens, laughed, saying that he was 
giving him for nothing what he had been 
obliged to pay other men dearly to offer him. 1 

Meditate constantly on the insults our Saviour 
met with, until you are able to rejoice at 
receiving the same treatment: consider yourself 
fortunate when you meet with it, as it enables 
you to please our Lord. St. Elizabeth, the 
daughter of the King of Hungary, was deeply 
wronged by a large number of people, and she 
prayed for them with many tears, begging our 
Lord to bestow some grace on them in return 
for each injury they had done her. Christ 
answered her that no petition had ever been so 
acceptable to Him, and that He pardoned all 
her sins in return for it. It is difficult for 
a man to conquer himself, and especially in his 
inclinations. It is no small thing in God s eyes 
to bear being despised by our dependents. 

1 This tale is to be found in the "Lives of the Fathers of the Desert" 
where it it told by Saint John the Dwarf. A philosopher, whose disciple 
had offended him, condemned the culprit to carry other people s burdens 
for three years, and then, for the same period, to pay men to insult and 
annoy him. At the end of that time, the philosopher bade his pupil 
enter the city of Athens to learn wisdom. At the gate sat a wise old 
man, whose custom it was, out of a desire to learn their dispositions to 
insult those who entered. Our youth laughed at his rudeness, and upon 
the elder inquiring the reason, replied: "No wonder, for you have given 
me gratis what I have had to buy dearly for three years. " Upon this 
the old man exclaimed: "Enter the city, for you are worthy of it." 
(Sec Rosweyde s Vita Patrum, Liber III. 84). 



Letter XII 87 

This happened to Job, whose servant would 
neither come, nor pay heed to his master when 
called by him. Our Redeemer was betrayed 
by His disciple, and received death and dishonour 
at the hands of those who should have served 
Him. St. Augustine says: "Do not think 
that the wicked live in vain, for God keeps 
them here and suffers them patiently, either 
that they may be converted, or that they may 
exercise the virtues of good men." There 
would have been no Abel, without Cain s malice, 
nor would there have been martyrs, if there 
had been no cruel executioners: chastity is not 
proved unless it is assaulted, nor patience 
without ill-treatment. Therefore receive this 
trial from the hand of God as a very special 
favour: thank Him for it, and make such good 
use of it, that, with holy Job who said he would 
not be without it, you may say: "I was the 
brother of dragons, and the companion of 
ostriches." (Job XXX. 29.) You will see 
more clearly how far you have advanced in 
holiness by the manner in which you bear this 
trial than you could possibly do while enjoying 
the sweetness of consolations, or even while 
suffering illness. For such annoyances as you 
meet with are so very hard to endure, that God is 
much pleased to find we love Him well enough 
to bear them well for His sake. This must be 
the object of all your efforts. When you have 
to inflict any punishment, beware of doing so 
while you feel angry; let the matter rest for the 



88 Blessed John of Aw la 

time being, and afterwards, from a motive of 
charity, correct the offender. Use persuasion 
rather than reproof, for it is a far more efficacious 
way of benefiting any one, and this should be 
our aim in dealing with the faulty, rather than 
to obtain personal satifaction for the injury or 
insult offered to ourselves. Learn to feign, 
sometimes, not to see things. Although you 
may think that discipline is then kept more 
slacldy than is well, yet overlook the offence, 
for sometimes it is from a secret motive of pride 
or anger that we are anxious that our servants 
should behave as they ought towards us. The 
heart of man is deep, and often deceives itself. 
Therefore we should always prefer to mortify 
ourselves, and exercise ourselves by putting up 
with one offence and then with another, until 
at last, as 1 have said, when annoyances come, 
we are actually glad of them and receive them 
as a boon. 

Therefore it will often be best to take no 
notice of offences. As one of my companions, 
who also possesses a very hasty temper, is accus 
tomed to say: "Behave as if you were deaf and 
dumb. If you are forced to find fault with any 
one, do so gently. Say: You know that I desire 
your good : it pains me to to see that you are 
not what I could wish, nor what Our Lord 
would have you. I am more grieved on this 
account, than at the faults you have committed 
against me. Thus, be gentle in your correction, 
if this is not sufficient, it would be better 



Letter XII 89 

to inflict some punishment such as fasting, or 
something else of the kind, than to strike the 
offender with a stick, or with your hand. If 
he is incorrigible, you must keep your temper 
and have him thrashed, and in the meantime, 
you must pray constantly for him, for nothing 
can be done without that. 1 Unless you under 
stand that to have servants is to have as many 
masters, and that you must suffer from them, 
and pray for them, you know nothing of your 
duty in the matter, nor do you imitate our 
Lord, and the way He treated His disciples. 
How kind, and loving, and long-suffering He 
was with them! He prayed for them, and 
died for them! This is how the superior must 
behave to his inferiors. Christ showed us this 
when He washed the Apostles feet and said: 
" I have given you an example." In short, 
behave towards your household more like a 
father and a loving father, than with the strict 
ness of a master. Be most gentle, and patient, 
and prayerful, and if you show any severity, let 
it be very slight. 

1 St. Teresa tells us that slavery still existed in Spain, although her 
father would not allow it in his household. The culprit spoken of in 
this letter was probably a slave, which accounts for the severity of the 
corporal punishment that might be necessary, and for the fact that his 
dismissal is not suggested. 



90 Blessed John of Avila 



Letter riri 

TO A FRIEND, ON TEPIDITY. 

YOUR letter gave me mingled feelings of joy 
and sorrow; for while I rejoice to hear that you 
are enjoying better health, I regret to hear that 
you have grown tepid in your religious duties. 
Let us thank our merciful Saviour for restoring 
your body, and confess with sorrow the faults 
we have committed. 

Oh tepidity! If those who give way to it 
only rightly understood what it is, they would 
less easily fall victims to it, for they would 
dread to become the slaves of so cruel a tyrant. 
If we are free from this vice, nothing we can 
do or suffer for God, even death itself, seems 
too great a burden, whereas the victim of tepidity 
finds a straw too heavy for him to carry. This 
vice ruins a man s spiritual life, and it not only 
stops all perseverance in the good he had 
commenced, but even causes him to repent of 
having begun it, thus turning into bitterness 
what should be sweeter than honey to his soul. 

The Israelites who journeyed through the 
desert had appetites so disordered that they 
could not enjoy the manna " containing in itself 
all sweetness," which God sent them. Their 
blindness was so great that they did not find 



Letter X1I1 9 1 

fault with themselves, or with the evil condition 
of their health, but with the food, which was 
of the most savoury kind. They asked for 
some other sort of viand with which they 
thought they would be better satisfied and 
pleased: it was given them, but at the cost of 
their lives. We are to learn by this that even if 
the things of God are not always agreeable to 
us, still we must not wish for what is contrary 
to them, however delightful it may seem to us, 
for without doubt it would poison our souls. 
We should rather rid ourselves of the disgust 
we feel for religion, and then, when the appetites 
of our soul are healthy, we shall feel a right 
and pleasant relish for the food God gives His 
children. 

To work slothfully and tepidly in God s 
service will cause you to lead so unhappy a life 
that you will be forced to change your ways. 
Besides, such a life is disloyal to our Saviour 
Who laboured with such ardent love to redeem 
us, and so willingly took up the cross that His 
love for us exceeded His suffering. The tepid 
soul cannot enjoy the world s pleasures, having 
given them up in the desire of doing right, and 
yet, for want of fervour, it does not find 
happiness in God. In this way such a soul 
is placed between two opposites, each of which 
is a torment to it; it suffers such severe afflic 
tions that at last it leaves the right road, and 
with miserable fatuity seeks the flesh-pots of 
the Egypt it had left, because it cannot endure 



92 Blessed John of Aw la 

the hardships of the desert. Compare the 
trouble that is undergone by one who serves 
God diligently and fervently, with that which 
the tepid soul suffers through sloth, and you 
will find that the burden borne by tepidity is 
a thousand times the heavier. It is indeed 
wonderful that vigils, prayer, fasting, mortifica 
tion and other works undertaken for our Lord 
should bring more pleasure to fervent souls 
than the tepid find in all their feasts, and riches, 
and other indulgences. The lukewarm Christian 
appears gay, but grief gnaws at his heart: while 
the just man, though his life be one of penance, 
has happiness within his soul. 

Why, then, for the sake of shirking a few 
hardships, do we undergo others far more severe? 
We prefer dying of hunger to working for our 
bread. Why cannot we understand that God 
will reward our labours, and that this reward 
cannot be earned by boasting of our piety, nor 
by sleeping, or sitting still with folded arms? 
We should be ashamed to talk of our love for 
God, and at the same time be mean enough to 
refuse to give ourselves any trouble in His 
service. Is that to honour God, and to esteem 
Him? It is not fitting that the soul which 
values it so cheaply should receive so great 
a boon. This is but justice, as our Saviour 
teaches, when He bids us watch and be ready 
to open when He knocks, like servants waiting 
for their master. He has said that unless 
a man takes up his cross and follows Him, he 



Letter XIII 



93 



is not worthy of Him. It is not the slothful 
who take up the cross, but those who love our 
Lord, Who died upon it. It is not they who 
imitate His courage and will so share in His 
victory; for the lukewarm begin the work 
to-day, and slacken in their efforts to-morrow, 
until by degrees they desist from it entirely. 
God threatens us with this when He says: 
" Because thou art lukewarm, I will vomit thee 
out of my mouth," which means that He will 
permit the offender to fall into still graver and 
fouler sins. We must not travel on this 
dangerous road with our eyes shut, for it is full 
of thieves who would rob and murder us, and 
there are many pitfalls into which we might 
slip, and great impediments to be overcome. 
We have sometimes seen the prudent and 
cautious in danger; what, then, can we expect, 
if we are careless, except that at every chance 
we should fall as miserable captives into the 
hands of our enemies? 

Let us, then, be diligent, whether it be from 
motives of fear or of love, and not permit 
tepidity to master us, for, like gall, it not only 
embitters religion to us, but it makes our 
service distasteful to God. Let us set to work 
in earnest, for, as the Holy Scripture says: "If 
thou be diligent, thy harvest shall come as 
a fountain." (Prov. VI. n.) Then we shall 
experience the truth of Christ s promise that 
He would give to those who serve Him a water, 
of which he who drinks, shall never more be 



94 Blessed John of Avila 

thirsty. If He gives this water to us during 
this life, what will He not give to us in the 
world to come? If such solace is given us 
during the battle, what shall be the feast of 
victory? Let us do violence to ourselves, for 
that is the way to come to the kingdom; and 
in proportion as we deny ourselves, and renounce 
our inclinations, do we advance on our way to 
heaven and become more pleasing to God. I do 
not think you should employ yourself in study 
until you have spent at least a year, and more 
if necessary, in eradicating from your heart all 
its evil habits and propensities. You should 
set about this at once, for until it is done, 
I consider that you ought to attend to nothing 
else. 



Letter XIV 95 



Letter r 



ON SCRUPLES, ADDRESSED TO A LADY. 

IT is very plain, my dear sister, that you cannot 
bear being put to the test, nor have you yet 
emerged from spiritual childhood, for when 
your heavenly Bridegroom ceases to smile on 
you, you immediately imagine He is displeased 
with you. Where are the signal favours which 
you received from His blessed Hand as a pledge 
of His special love for you? Ought you so 
soon to forget how He has cherished you? or 
to believe that God would lightly withdraw 
affection He bestowed so fully? Why did He 
grant so many proofs of it, if not to make you 
trust Him? Be assured that He loves you, 
even if He does not show it at the present 
moment. You need not fear deception on this 
point, for, as I have often told you, our love 
for God should not cause us excessive sadness 
whenever we commit some venial sin. If this 
were necessary, who would ever be at rest or 
peace, for we are all sinners? May our Lord 
give you grace to lean on Him and rejoice in 
Him, placing your wounds in His, that you 
may be healed and comforted, however violent 
and painful your hurt may be. 



96 Blessed John of Avila 

How long will you continue your minute 
self-examinations? It is like raking up a dust 
heap from which nothing can come but rubbish 
and unpleasantness. Feel sure of this, that it 
is not for your own merits, but for those of 
Jesus crucified, that you are loved and made 
whole. Do not give way to such discourage 
ment about your faults, the results will show 
you how displeasing it is to God. It would be 
far better to be courageous and strong-hearted. 
Meditate on the benefits you have received 
through Jesus Christ in the past and possess 
now; reflect on them in such a manner as to 
lead you to sorrow for your sins against Him 
and to avoid offending Him, without losing 
your peace and patience if you happen to fall. 
As I have often repeated, God loves you as you 
are. Be content that His love should come from 
His goodness, and not from your merits. 
What does it matter to a bride if she is not 
beautiful, if the bridegroom s affection for her 
makes her seem so in his eyes? If you look 
only on yourself, you will loathe yourself and 
your many defects will take away all your 
courage. 

What more have you to wish for? In heaven 
there is One to Whom you appear all fair, for 
He looks at you through the apertures of the 
Wounds He received for you: by these He 
gives you grace, and supplies what is lacking 
in you, healing you and making you lovely. 
Be at peace : you are indeed the handmaid of 



Letter XIV 97 

the crucified Christ: forget your past misdoings 
as if they had never been. I tell you, in God s 
name, as I have done before, that such is His 
holy will. Run swiftly on your way with a 
light foot, like one who has thrown a heavy 
burden off his shoulders, which hindered his 
course. If the longed-for quiet does not come 
at once, do not distress yourself; sometimes 
one travels farther in a storm than in a calm, 
and war gains more merits than peace. He 
Who redeemed you will guide you aright so 
that you may be safe. Trust in Him; He has 
given you many reasons to do so; and when 
you consider your own defects, consider also 
the depths of His mercy which will help you far 
more than thinking about your deficiencies. 

May God s mercy shelter you beneath His 
everlasting love, as I desire, and pray, and trust 
that it may, and for this I bid you hope. 
Recommend me to the same Lord for the sake 
of His love. 



Blessed John of Avila 



letter rto 

TO A LADY, ON WHAT CONSTITUTES TRUE 
HOLINESS. 

I HAVE received your letters, and though I do 
not answer them all, yet do not cease to ask me 
whatever you wish to know, if you really desire 
to be as holy as you say. A contrary course 
of action would be neither humble nor obedient, 
and therefore, not the way of the Saints. 

The first thing by which to attain great 
sanctity, is to consider that you are wicked and 
that God is infinitely good, and that it is only 
by His graces that sinners are made good 
Christians, and that good Christians become 
better still. 

You must be most loyal to our Lord Jesus 
Christ by giving Him the glory for any virtues 
you possess. This is the matter, above all 
others, on which He is susceptible to injustice, 
and He leaves those who defraud Him of these 
His claims without honour or graces. You 
must also love Him fervently, if you would be 
perfect, for holiness comes from love, and the 
greater the love, the greater the saint. The 
best proof we can give of our love for Christ is 
to obey His commands and bear the cross for 
Him ; the greater the mortifications and hardships 



Letter XV 99 

this entails, the more does it bear witness to the 
genuineness of our love. 

Contempt for self and abnegation of our will 
are also signs of this love, for our Lord says: 
" If any man will come after me, let him deny 
himself^" (St. Matth. XVI. 24.) A truly 
devout soul is at enmity with its own judgment 
and self-will, and is grateful when it receives 
insults or annoyances, as they give it the oppor 
tunity of conquering these vices. Until a man 
has obtained from God this self-hatred, so that 
he takes vengeance on himself by penance as 
far as possible, and is glad that other men 
should avenge Christ s cause on him, he has 
not travelled far on the way of that perfect love 
of our Lord which causes the soul to have 
a holy hatred towards self, so that it may have 
a true love of God and of itself. 

Another outcome of deep love of our Lord 
is a perfect charity towards our neighbour, which 
grows as our love for God increases, making its 
possessor as much at one with his brethren, as 
if they were members of the same body ; it 
moves him to pray fervently for others, and do 
penance for their welfare when it is possible. 
May your heart for ever be wholly given to 
Christ. 



100 Blessed John of Avila 



letter rtoi 

TO A LADY OF RANK, ENCOURAGING HER TO 
SERVE GOD. 

Madam, 

It is a great pleasure to hear 
of your holy desire to serve God, but I regret 
your want of courage in putting it into 
execution. It is extremely wrong for any one 
to dare to continue living in a worldly manner, 
and not begin to live for God, confiding in His 
help. My dear Sister, since the human race 
existed, has ever any man who trusted in his 
Creator, and obeyed his commands, been aban 
doned by Him? Has any one persevered in 
calling on God with his whole heart, and not 
been heard? Nay, rather, the Almighty is 
always seeking us, and urging us to serve Him. 
If we draw near to Him, what can He, Who is 
so good and so faithful to His promises do, 
but come forth to meet and embrace us, and 
give us His help and protection? Yes, most 
truly and most certainly He will, as St. Paul 
tells us, far more fully than we can possibly 
imagine. Begin, then, servant of God, begin: 
cast yourself upon Him, and be confident that 
He, Who inspired you with the desire, will 
give you strength to carry it out and perfect it 



Letter XVI 101 

to the end. Our Lord does not arouse one 
who sleeps, except to give him many favours 
on his awaking. 

Take courage, and set out with diligence 
and fervour: nothing is worse than for a 
beginner to commence badly by indulging his 
body and trying to please the world. Shut 
your ears against all human praise or blame, 
for in a little while both the critic and the man 
he judges will be dust and ashes. We shall 
one day stand before God s tribunal, where the 
mouth of wickedness shall be stopped and 
virtue will be exalted. Meanwhile, embrace 
the cross, and follow Him Who was dishonoured 
and Who lost His life upon it for your sake. 
Hide yourself in our Lord s wounds, so that 
when He comes, He may find you dwelling in 
Himself. Then He will beautify you with 
His graces, and give Himself to you as your 
reward for having left all things, even yourself, 
for His sake. How little, indeed, does the 
man who forsakes all things give up! He but 
leaves now, what, whether he will or no, he 
can keep but for a very brief time. Even while 
he possesses it, it brings him misery, for all 
that is not God only burdens and saddens the 
soul, which its Creator alone can satisfy. Open 
your heart to Him, and rejoice in Him, and 
you will find Him more tender and loving than 
can be imagined. 

I sometimes wonder how any one can possibly 
wish evil to others, for our Lord stands between 



IO2 Blessed John of Aw la 

him and them. How can he be harsh towards 
the body, who loves, or ought to love, the 
Head? Do you not know, my dear Sister, 
that when Jesus rose again and appeared to 
His disciples, He placed Himself " in the midst 
of them," and net at the head or elsewhere? 
He acted thus to show that He is in the midst 
of us and that we cannot wish harm, nor do 
wrong to any one, without first doing it to 
Him. The person who wishes evil to his 
neighbour, wishes evil to Christ, and it were 
better for that man never to have been born, 
since he ignores that the end for which he was 
created was to love our Lord. You should 
realise that your neighbours are very dear to 
Christ, that they are created in His image and 
that He gave His blood for them. Say to 
yourself, then, " How can I wish ill to those to 
whom my Lord wishes well? How can I desire 
death to those, to whom He desires to give 
life? Jesus died for these souls, and would do 
so again if there were need, and shall not I love 
those who are so dear to Him? What does it 
matter if they injure me? I do not love them 
because of what they are, nor for the way they 
treat me, but for Christ s sake alone. Why 
should their evil deeds destroy the affection 
I bear them on His account? I ask of God 
that they may be acceptable to Him, that they 
may please Him, and enjoy His favour, so that 
there may be more temples in which He may 
dwell, more souls to praise Him and more 



Letter XVI 103 

hearts to love Him as He deserves." Offer 
up this prayer: "O Lord, do Thou take pos 
session of these souls and make them wholly 
Thine: may they enjoy Thy presence within 
them for Thou art ready to give Thyself to all. 
O my God, they are created in Thine image; 
make them resemble Thee more and more, and 
grant, both to them, and to us all, pardon, 
grace and glory." If your nature rebel against 
this prayer, yet utter it in spirit and lift up 
your heart to Christ, crying: "For Thy loving 
sake, O Lord, and not for their merits;" and 
so, little by little, you will find yourself in 
peace. If you should have to struggle with 
yourself, still do not let yourself be overcome; 
neither say nor do anything uncharitable, nor 
let your heart consent to any unkind thought 
about others. 

Your scruples about confession are temptations 
by which the devil tries to deprive you of 
spiritual joy, and rob you of your pleasure in 
the things of God. A scrupulous soul is not 
fit to trust or to love God, and as it does not find 
what satisfies it in Him, is not contented with 
the way by which He leads it, and forsakes 
Him to seek its happiness elsewhere: it commits 
the fatal error of raising a storm where there 
was a calm. It follows its own conceits, and 
not God s way, which is always sweet and 
simple. Treat your anxieties as a jest; obey 
your confessor s advice; do not give way to 
your own judgment. You must not allow 



104 Blessed John of Aw la 

your scruples to influence you, but say " God 
is not scrupulous. I do what is commanded 
me in His holy name, and that is all I have to 
answer for." Lose no time in acquiring the 
love of God, my dear Sister, and you will soon 
get rid of scruples, which spring from a timorous 
heart, for " perfect love casteth out fear." Cry 
to our Lord: " Deus meus illumina tenebras 
meas," " O my God enlighten my darkness," 
and trust to His merciful goodness, that whilst 
you serve Him He will deign to give you 
more grace to see your faults and amend them. 
As for your thoughts of vain glory, laugh at 
them too, and say to them, " I am not doing 
this action on your account, nor will I cease 
doing it because of you. 1 O my God, it is to 
Thee I offer all that I do, all that I say, all that 
I think!" When the temptation returns, say: 
" Thou hast come too late, the work is already 
given to God." 

It is more discreet for beginners not to 
perform any remarkable exterior acts of piety; 
their spiritual life is young and tender, and, as 
it were, only in the bud, and is easily injured 
by the breath of praise, so it is best for them to 
hide their graces. Follow this advice when 
you can, but when it is impossible and your 
good works must necessarily be seen by others, 
act with liberty and without fear. When you 

1 This is an allusion to the well known tale of St. Bernard, who, 
when preaching was tempted by the devil to be vain of his eloquence 
and its effects. He said : " I did not begin for you and I shall not 
leaye off for you," and continued his sermon. 



Letter XVI 105 

commence an action, lift up your heart to our 
Lord saying: " Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, 
sed nomini Tuo da gloriam." " Not unto us, 

Lord, not unto us, but to Thy name give 
glory." (Ps. CXIII. 9.) Or else " Gloria Patri 
et Filio et Spiritui Sancto." In conclusion, 

1 would urge you to cast out of your heart all 
but God; let your eyes be ever towards Him, 
that He " may pluck your feet from the snare." 
(Ps. XXIV. 15.) Care for nothing in this 
world but contrition, solitude, humility and 
penance. Follow God s law, and you will find 
how He will make your path straight, and cast 
your enemies under your feet. Practice will 
show you what you could never be taught by 
word of mouth. Those who are tepid and 
talkative learn little of God s ways, while others 
who labour fervently for Him, come to know 
Him well. Our Lord Jesus Christ goes on 
before you, follow Him with your cross, and 
one day you will come to be with Him in 
heaven. 



io6 Blessed John of Avila 



Letter Mi 

TO A LADY, ON CONFIDENCE IN GOD. 

Your Grace, 

May the peace of our Lord 
Jesus Christ be ever with you. If we would 
not offend God, there are two points on which 
we must be particularly careful one is, that we 
should love His goodness, and the second is, 
that we should trust in His mercy. How 
great is the blindness of a heart which does not 
love God! and just as great is its weakness, if 
it does not confide in His abundant mercy. The 
graces we have received from Him in the past 
ought to incite us to love Him, for they flowed 
from Divine love which requires a like return 
from us. 

These gifts ought also to encourage us to 
trust in God, for surely, He Who has already 
bestowed such benefits on us, and has set us in 
the path of holiness, will give us the grace to 
persevere. We ought also to find motives for 
hope in Christ s Passion: we should love Him 
for dying for us and trust in His mercy. Cast 
away, then, all doubts, faintheartedness and 
misgivings, for the merits of the Passion are 
ours, because Christ gave them to us, and we 
are His. It is in the Passion that I trust, on 



Letter XVII 107 

it I rely, and by it I laugh my enemies to 
scorn. Through it I make my prayers to the 
Father and offer Him His Son; I pay all my 
debts from Christ s merits, and have more than 
is requisite for the purpose. Although I have 
many sorrows, I find in Christ s sufferings more 
than a sufficient solace; they are such a source 
of joy that the grief caused by my own defects 
is dispelled. 

O God most loving, Who art Love itself, 
how we wound Thee if we trust not in Thee 
with all our hearts! If, after the favours Thou 
hast shown us, and more than all, after having 
died for us, we do not feel confidence in Thee, 
we must be worse than the very brutes. After 
all Thou hast given us in the past, can we doubt 
Thy loving kindness in the future, or think 
that Thou wilt cease to protect those Thou hast 
saved from hell? Wilt Thou leave Thy adopted 
sons to die of hunger, or cease to guide them 
aright in the path in which Thou didst set them 
when they had wandered away? When we were 
estranged from Thee, Thou didst give us many 
graces, wilt Thou then refuse them now when 
our only desire is to serve Thee? Whilst we 
offended against Thee Thou didst cherish us, 
Thou didst follow after us when we fled from 
Thee; Thou didst draw us to Thyself, didst 
cleanse us from our guilt, and giving to us Thy 
Holy Spirit, didst fill our souls with joy, and 
bestow on us the kiss of peace. 

And wherefore didst Thou do all this? Surely 



io8 Blessed yohn of Aw la 

it was that we might believe that, as for Christ s 
sake Thou didst reconcile us to Thyself when 
we we were among Thine enemies, much more 
surely, wilt Thou keep us for His sake, now 
that we are in the number of Thy friends. 

O my God and my Mercy! after the countless 
favours Thou hast shown us, permit not that 
we distrust Thee and question whether Thou 
dost love us and intend to save us. More 
evident than the sun at mid-day is the witness 
borne by Thy works that Thou dost cherish us 
and give us the hope of salvation. Let our 
hearts rely confidently on God, even though 
we feel not the sweetness of His consolations. 
Genuine faith believes without the need of 
argument or miracles; and love trusts its 
Beloved, even though He chastise it: true 
patience is content to suffer without relief, and 
so a real confidence in God remains unshaken 
by the absence of any solace from Him. Let 
us not ask for any signs of God s favour, but 
obey His command to rely implicitly on Him, 
and all will be well with us. If we feel weak, 
let us rely on God, and we shall be strong: for 
those who confide in Him " shall take wings as 
eagles and not faint." (Isaias XL. 31.) If we 
know not what to do, let us trust in our 
Creator, and He will be our Light; for, as 
Isaias says, " who is there amongst you that 
hath walked in darkness and hath no light? 
Let him hope in the name of the Lord, and 
lean upon his God." (L. 10.) Holy Scripture 



Letter XVII 109 

also tells us: "They that trust in God shall 
understand the truth." (Wisd. III. 9.) Let 
us place our hope in our heavenly Father when 
we are in trouble, and we shall be set free from 
it, as David, speaking in His name, says in the 
Psalms: (XC. 14.) "Because he hoped in me 
I will deliver him." These words show that 
God only asks that we hope in Him, in order 
that He may deliver us, and this, because those 
who fall in time of tribulation, fall because their 
faith is weak. St. Peter, while he felt no fear, 
walked on the sea as if it had been dry land; 
but the instant he lost confidence he began to 
sink, and our Lord said to him: "O thou of 
little faith, why didst thou doubt?" (St. Matth. 
XIV. 31.) Let us fear lest this reproof should 
be addressed to us. However wildly the sea 
of temptations may rage around us, let us go 
bravely on, and not let a thought of fear or 
mistrust enter our hearts. Rather let us confide 
in God s great love for us, which keeps us safe 
amid all perils. I have said all this because as 
I wish your belief in the Catholic faith to be 
pure from all error, and your love for God to 
be without taint of tepidity, so I would have 
your hope in Him to be free from all distrust 
and fear. Believe me, God can overcome all 
our doubts and temptations. May He grant 
us the grace to be wholly converted to Him, 
and to place all our hope in Him, for if we 
gave ourselves to our Creator s care, there 
would be no need of help from creatures. 



1 1 o Blessed John of Avila 

If at times doubts enter our mind, let us put 
them from us and think of other things, for if 
God does not give us the means to solve those 
doubts, we should not trouble ourselves much 
about them. I wish you and Don Pedro, to 
whom this letter is addressed as well as to 
yourself, to be very discreet in fasting and 
bodily mortifications during this Lent, but to 
be careful to practise the advice I have given 
you. Let your memories observe strict absti 
nence, not only from all thoughts of created 
things, but even from thinking of yourselves. 
Forgetting all things, let us go to God, and 
abide entirely in Him: let us fast from all 
consolation in any creature, so that, as our souls 
dwell in solitude, God may come and fill them, 
because they are empty of all else. When you 
place yourself in God s presence, endeavour 
rather to listen to Him, than to speak to Him, 
and strive more to love Him, than to learn 
from Him. 

May the same Jesus Christ, of Whom we 
speak, be with you and with us all. Amen. 



Letter XVIII 1 1 1 



letter jrtriit 

TO CONSOLE A YOUNG LADY IN GREAT 
AFFLICTION. 

My dearly loved Sister in Christ, 

I look upon the special 

regard for your soul with which God inspires 
me, as a sign of His favour, for not only does 
the law of charity require this sympathy from 
me, but 1 hope that my compassion for your 
sorrows will ensure me a share in the joy you 
are one day to receive from our Lord s hands. 
May the Almighty be blessed in all things, and 
may His judgments be adored, for His infinite 
Wisdom knows how to turn to our advantage 
what seems to us the loss of all things. This 
He does to teach us our ignorance and 
insufficiency, so that with full confidence, we 
may abandon ourselves utterly to His care, 
trusting that, although we know not how, He 
will find a remedy for all our ills. You will 
have much to struggle against, and your soul 
will often be perturbed. Your past life will 
appear to you to merit punishment, and when 
you think how little you profited by the con 
solations God sent, you will fear lest they, also, 
may increase your guilt. Scruples will molest 
you, and make you think yourself to blame for 



112 Blessed John of Avila 

all you suffer. The sadness which afflicts you 
at the present time, the troubles which beset 
you on every side, together with the ills you 
fear in the future, will unite to crush your soul. 
You will feel like the people of Israel felt, after 
they had left Egypt, when they found themselves 
hemmed in by high mountains, with the sea 
before them, and their enemy in pursuit. Often 
you will feel like David, when he cried: " I said 
in the excess of my mind: I am cast away from 
before thy eyes." (Ps. XXX. 23.) The devils 
will say to you, as they did to him : " There is 
no salvation for you in your God." You will 
be brought to such a pass, that you will seem 
to taste the anguish of death, although death 
itself would appear less horrible, for you will 
be terrified by a secret dread that God has 
abandoned you. These trials will make your 
soul so dry and hard that it will seem as dead 
and as perverse as that of the wicked in hell. 
You will cry, and not be heard: that in which 
you sought and hoped to find relief, will only 
make you more disconsolate. God will show 
you no sign of love, but will seem to turn from 
you in disdain. These and other trials, which 
are usually suffered in this affliction, will make 
you so disgusted with yourself, that you would 
welcome death as a gain. 

What then, ought you to do in such a case? 
Ought you to give up that hope which Christ 
has so often bidden you hold fast? Should you 
give way to that despair to which nature, and 



Letter XVIII 113 

the temptations of the devil would lead you? 
or ought you not rather to find consolation in 
the loving kindness of Him, Who, when He is 
angry, is mindful of His mercies? 

There is no need, my dear Sister, for any 
great deliberation on this subject, but there is 
much for you to do; there is nothing at which 
to be dismayed, but great need of courage. 
Do not feel miserable about the state you are 
in, but rather, rejoice in God s love for you, 
although you may not realise it at the time. 
Do not depend upon your feelings; they are often 
both misled and deceiving. Neither our confi 
dence in our justification, nor our doubts about 
it affect the reality. "I do not judge myself," 
said St. Paul, "He that judgeth me is the 
Lord." (i. Cor. IV. 3, 4.) Our folly is so great, 
that it is often best for our souls to think that 
God loves us but little, or not at all. When 
we feel dry, sad, despondent and afflicted, so 
that we seem to suffer the torments of hell, our 
foolishness is more easily kept within bounds 
than when we are made presumptuous by the 
freedom and happiness which God s consolations 
are wont to bring. Like a loving Father, lest 
his children fall into negligence and false 
security, He hides the love He bears them, so 
that they may always preserve some holy fear 
to keep them from becoming negligent and so 
losing the inheritance he is keeping for them in 
the kingdom of heaven. God knows how it 
torments these souls to feel that He is dissatisfied 

Vol. I. g 



114 Blessed John of Avila 

with them, how they are tempted when they 
think that He turns away from them; yet it is 
His wish that they should pass through this 
trial. Watching them and loving them as He 
does, He dissimulates His tenderness, and keeps 
them safe by teaching them this painful lesson. 
He is the Father of all mercies, whose love for 
His children surpasses that of all earthly parents; 
He alone knows the full meaning of fatherhood, 
and in comparison with Him, other fathers can 
hardly be said to love or protect their children; 
so that He has bidden us call no man on earth 
our father but Him, our only refuge. So 
strong is His affection, and so watchful His 
care for our needs, that His Paternity cannot 
be described in words. Yet this Father, ever 
anxious for our good, allows us to suffer 
persecutions from the devil and from other 
sources, and not only watches in silence, but 
Himself sends us more trials and temptations. 

After some great sorrow, God usually grants 
us happiness, as to Abraham He gave " Isaac, 
the desired," which name signifies " laughter." 
After a while, the Almighty plunged the 
patriarch into grief again, by commanding him 
to kill the son He had bestowed for his 
consolation: so does God often deprive His 
children of their happiness, bidding them sacrifice 
it and live in sadness. The Apostles felt 
perfectly safe and confident as they embarked 
with Christ in their boat; yet they were terrified 
when the storm arose which seemed likely to 



Letter XV1I1 115 

drown them, while He, on Whose protection 
they depended, slept, and appeared to have 
forgotten them. But our Lord had not forgotten 
them: it was His command which raised the 
tempest, and He was as watchful to deliver 
them as to place them in danger. Why then 
should you be troubled by the trials your 
Saviour sends you? Why should you dislike the 
medicine which has come from the hands of your 
tender Father? Do you think He is austere 
enough to grieve you, and too weak to deliver 
you from the afflictions sent by Him? Does He 
lack mercy, that He will not pardon you, and 
grant you greater graces than ever? Have 
a strong faith in God s goodness, although 
to your weak understanding, He seems severe. 
For your soul, confidence in His mercy is as 
far superior to distrust, as the certainty of faith 
surpasses the ignorance of human reason. 

God gives you these sufferings here, to save 
you from those of eternity. He says of His 
vineyard: " I keep it night and day, there is no 
indignation in me against it." (Isaias. XXVII. 3.) 
He docs not permit the sun to injure it by day, 
nor the moon by night: whether He consoles 
or afflicts us, He keeps His holy watch over us, 
and never so faithfully as when we think He 
has abandoned us. Trust in God s judgment, 
dear Sister, and not in your own, since He 
understands what is best for you, and knows 
the present and future state of your soul. Do 
not weary yourself to death with anxiety, for, 



1 1 6 Blessed John of Am la 

as the Gospel says: "You cannot with all your 
taking thought and caring add one cubit to 
your stature." (Matth. VI. 27.) Why, then, 
rely so much on yourself, since God bids you 
confide in Him? Why struggle so to work 
out your salvation in your own way, while, 
after all, God s abundant mercy will avail us far 
more than our imagined righteousness, when at 
the last we stand before His judgment. 

Close your eyes to all that affrights you and 
trust in the Wounds of Christ, Who received 
them for your sake, and you will find rest. 
Till the horse ceases looking at the well, for fear 
of falling in, it will draw no water from it ; and 
so, the more hopeless you feel of a remedy for 
your troubles, because you know not where to 
look nor what to do for one, the more hopeful 
is your state. This is because when human 
counsel and strength fail, God stretches forth 
His hand, and that is the hour he was waiting 
for, in which best to show His mercy. This is 
to show us that the remedy comes not from our 
own power, but from the loving and gracious 
will of God. Therefore the more our misfortunes 
accumulate, the more ready and prepared our 
souls are, to receive God s mercy, for the great 
ness of our misery moves His compassion, and 
causes Him to show the more pity for us. " He 
raises up the needy from the earth and lifts up 
the poor out of the dunghill." (Ps. 112. 7.) 
He will take from them the sackcloth of affliction 
and clothe them with the robe of gladness, so 



Letter XVIII 117 

that they may confess His loving kindness and 
mercy. Thus, those who live desolate will 
praise Him, which greatly pleases Him, as He 
says: " Call on me in the day of tribulation and 
I will deliver thee, and thou shalt honour me." 
(Ps. 49. 15.) Do not be disturbed if that time 
seems long in coming, for delay is not refusal, 
especially when the promise has been given by 
the Truth Himself. Your ears will surely one 
day hear the words: "Arise, make haste, my 
love, and come, for winter is now past, the rain 
is over and gone, the flowers are appearing" 
flowers instead of thorns, and thy soul shall 
cast away its mournfulness and bring forth 
the fruit of love. 

Remember that on the eve of their deliverance, 
God s chosen people were afflicted more than 
they had ever been; burden after burden was 
laid upon their shoulders, and they were cruelly 
scourged. So it is that after a night of tempest, 
the day dawns brightest; after the storm comes 
the fair weather, and when her travail is over, 
the mother rejoices in the birth of her child. 
You must believe that your trials are the heralds 
of great joy, for no soul deserves to possess 
peace and the delights of love, until it has been 
wearied in combat, and tasted the bitterness of 
spiritual desolation. 

God is proving you; be faithful to Him, and 
submit to all He sends you. Love Him, 
although He chastises you, and follow Him, 
although He turns away from you. If He 



1 1 8 Blessed John of Avila 

answers not, never cease crying to Him, 
knowing that " you will not labour in vain, for 
He is faithful and cannot deny Himself and 
will not despise to the end the prayer of the 
poor." (2. Tim. II. 13.) He will rise and 
command the sea to be still, and He will give 
back the living Isaac to you. He will turn 
your mourning into joy, and after your many 
fights will grant you abundance of peace. If 
your merits do not deserve all this, you will 
receive it from his bounty. 

God asks you to learn to live among the 
thorns, where there is no place to lay your head: 
if you can do but little, you must compensate 
by suffering much. You must walk resolutely 
in the way of God, for the crown is lost only 
by those who go astray and renounce it. As 
for the remedy of your ills, God will give it; 
when and how you know not. For the afflictions 
you bear now you will have a fulness of joy, 
for which you must bless His Majesty both 
here and for ever in heaven. 



Letter XIX 119 



Letter rir 

TO ONE OF HIS DISCIPLES, TEACHING HIM HOW 
TO LEAD A GOOD LIFE. 

I HAVE received your letter, and to tell you the 
truth, if my many occupations did not often 
prevent me from answering you, I should ask 
you to write very frequently, as it is always 
a great pleasure to receive news of yourself and 
your family. But as I owe you so much 
already, let me add this debt to the score, and 
our Lord will repay you all. 

You ask me to tell you how to become 
a good Christian, and I am most glad to hear 
your question, for to wish to be a good 
Christian is to have already started well on the 
road. But take care not to resemble the many, 
whose knowledge of God s will, as it does not 
make them follow it, only condemns them to 
more severe punishment; for, as Christ tells 
us; "That servant who knew the will of his 
lord, and did not according .to his will, shall be 
beaten with many stripes." (St. Luke. XII. 47.) 
Therefore, to ask to be shown the way of God 
is to lay oneself under no small obligation, but 
as I believe you wish to learn it with the full 



I2O Blessed yohn of Avila 

intention of practising all that it involves, it is 
my duty to direct you in it. 

Good works are of two kinds. Some are 
exterior, such as prayer, fasting, and almsgiving; 
abstaining from swearing, falsehood and mur 
muring; avoiding injuring or annoying people 
and other things of a similar kind. Some also 
are purely spiritual or interior, such as fervent 
love for God and our neighbour, an intense 
realisation of our own unworthiness, deep 
gratitude for the Divine mercies, and such 
a profound reverence for the Almighty that we 
realise our own nothingness in the sight of His 
greatness. There are also many other religious 
sentiments which cannot be enumerated. Cor 
poral good works are the easiest to perform, 
and a man is much to blame if he omits these, 
for can any one be careful in greater matters 
who neglects lesser ones? If we cannot restrain 
our tongue, or control our bodies and employ 
them in good works, can we complain that God 
does not call us to higher things? 

The Temple of God in Jerusalem had one 
gate for the people and further on another 
through which none but the priests might pass. 
So, to hear Mass, to honour one s elders, to 
abstain from speaking or acting wrongly, and 
other duties of the same kind, are common to 
all Christians, whether they be the friends of 
God or not; but a heart full of faith and charity 
is the special gift of His friends, and is the 
distinguishing mark between the sons of per- 



Letter XIX 1 2 1 

dition and of salvation. As the Jews had to 
walk through the first portal to reach the second, 
so Christians pass by good actions to purity of 
heart. Not that these works in themselves 
make the heart holy, which can only be effected 
by the gift of God s grace: but this, by His 
great merey, He bestows on those who do their 
best to serve Him, as far as their weakness will 
allow them. What we need, above all other 
things, is a new heart, but this is the last thing 
we should think ourselves capable of obtaining 
by our own power. No man has faith who 
does not believe that he has received his being 
from God; neither has he faith, who thinks 
that any other than the Almighty can give him 
strength to become good, for holiness is a higher 
gift than mere existence. Those who imagine 
they can attain to holiness by any wisdom or 
strength of their own, will find themselves after 
many labours, and struggles, and weary efforts, 
only the farther from possessing it, and this in 
proportion to their certainty that they of 
themselves have gained it. 

Humility and self-contempt will obtain our 
wish far sooner than will stubborn pride. 
Though God is so exalted, His eyes regard the 
lowly, both in heaven and on earth, and we shall 
strive in vain to please Him in any other way 
than by abasing ourselves. The Son of God 
came down from heaven and taught us by His 
life and words the way to heaven, and that way 
is humility, as He said : " He that humbleth 



122 Blessed John of Avila 

himself shall be exalted." (St. Luke XVIII. 14.) 
Therefore, if you wish God to give you a new 
heart, you must first of all amend your deeds, 
and then lament your faults and accuse yourself 
of your sins. Do not extenuate your defects, 
but judge yourself justly ; let not your self-love 
blind you, but when conscience accuses you of 
wrong, do not forget it, but keep it before your 
eyes and manifest it to Jesus Christ, your 
Saviour and Physician. Weep for it before 
Him, and He will comfort you without fail. No 
force can prevail with a Father like the tears of 
his child, nor is there anything which so moves 
God to grant us, not justice, but mercy, as our 
sorrow and self-accusation. Call upon the 
Almighty, for He will not be deaf to your cries; 
show Him your wounded soul: for you have 
not to deal with One Who is blind; speak to 
Him of all your miseries for He is merciful 
and will heal them. Go to confession and Holy 
Communion, and when you are united to your 
Saviour, your soul will melt with devotion, and 
you will say: "How great is the multitude of 
thy sweetness O Lord, which thou hast hidden 
for them that fear thee." (Ps. XXX. 20.) Be 
sure too, to show to your neighbour the same 
love which God has shown towards you. If 
you are harsh to others, you will find God harsh 
to you, for you know His fixed decree: " With 
what measure you mete, it shall be measured to 
you again." Do not be niggardly, then, to 
other people, lest God treat you in the same 



Letter XIX 123 

way. He will pardon you many crimes for the 
one offence you forgive your neighbour; He 
will be long-suffering with you in return for 
a little patience shown towards others; He will 
reward you with abundant riches for the small 
alms you bestow. Strive earnestly, therefore, 
to keep the law of charity, for in that is your 
life. 

In these few words you see the rule by which 
you must live: watch carefully over your words 
and actions. Practise prayer, and beg Christ 
to grant you a newness and singleness of heart: 
do nothing to injure others, but rather do them 
all the good you can by word and deed, and 
thus you will fulfil your duty both to God, 
your neighbour and yourself. "This do and 
thou shalt live." Know, however, that if 
you are to be a friend of God, you must 
prepare yourself for trials, for without them all 
your virtue is like an unwalled city, which falls 
at the first onslaught. Patience is the guardian 
of all the other virtues, and, if it fail, we may 
lose in one moment the labour of many days. 
Our Master and Redeemer tells us: "In your 
patience you shall possess your souls;" (St. Luke, 
XXI. 19.) without it, we lose control over 
ourselves, because anger, like wine, robs us 
of our reason. Brace up your heart to suffer 
afflictions, for without the battle there is no 
victory, and the crown is only for the conqueror. 
Think not that your burden is heavy; it is very 
light, compared with what you deserve to have 



124 Blessed John of Avila 

to bear and with what Jesus Christ our Lord 
bore for your sake; it is slight indeed in 
comparison to the reward it will bring you. 
Remember, that we shall soon quit this world, 
and then all the past will seem to us like a short 
dream, and we shall see that it is better to have 
laboured than to have rested here. Learn how 
to profit by your sorrows, for they bring great 
riches to the soul. (Wisdom III.) They cleanse 
it from past sin; what fire is to gold, that 
tribulation is to the just man, whose heart it 
purifies. Trials only injure the wicked, for 
instead of being grateful to God, they murmur 
against Him. Their punishment does them no 
good, because they turn their sufferings into 
sins, and so lose where they might have gained, 
earning hell by painful labour. Do not imitate 
them, but let your courage increase with your 
trials. God proves His sons by sorrow, and no 
one will be crowned but he that has been through 
the combat. St. James says: "Blessed is the 
man who endureth temptation, for when he 
hath been proved, he shall receive the crown of 
life," (St. James I. 4.) which God promises to 
those who love Him. If only we realised the 
value of this crown, how gladly should we now 
suffer afflictions! Would that we understood 
how blessed, both now and hereafter, are the 
tears we shed in this life. We should abase 
ourselves to the dust here, so that we might 
stand high in heaven, and should despise all 
earthly pleasures, were they given us, in com- 



Letter XX 125 

parison with the heavenly joys for which we 
hope. Soon the vanity of this world will be 
unmasked, and the kingdom of God will be 
revealed. Live here as a stranger your body 
on earth, but your heart above so that when 
our Lord calls you, He may not find you 
sleeping, but ready to go with Him, and to 
hear the sweet words: "Well done, thou good 
and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of 
thy Lord." (St. Matth. XXV. 21.) 



llettct rr 

TO A LADY WHO HAD ASKKD WHAT 
CHARITY WAS. 

You ask me in your letter to tell you in what 
charity consists, so that you may conform 
your life to it, for as the Apostle says to the 
Corinthians: "If I should deliver my body to 
be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me 
nothing." (i Cor. XIII. 3.) You set me no 
easy task, and it would need St. Paul himself, 
whose words led you to make the demand, 
to answer it worthily. There is nothing of 
greater importance than charity, and in it consists 
the perfection of the Christian religion, as the 
same Apostle teaches us : " He that loveth 
his neighbour hath fulfilled the law." (Rom. 
XIII. 8.) For this reason pray to the Holy 



126 Blessed John of Avila 

Spirit, Whose special attribute is charity, to 
give you light to understand what it is, as He 
did to the Apostles on the day of Pentecost 
when He infused it into their hearts, since He 
and no other can teach it us. For how can 
a mortal man speak the language of heaven, 
which is only understood by the Blessed, whose 
whole affections are occupied in loving God, 
and whatever else He desires them to love? 
How can I, who come of Adam s race, and 
inherit a tendency to seek myself in all things, 
speak to you of that love which is fixed on God 
alone, and entirely forgets its own interests? 
We even perform many religious duties with 
a view to our own profit, so that often, however 
holy the work may be, it is prompted by 
self-love alone. For as water flows to the same 
place whether it pass through a golden or an 
earthenware conduit, so, whether our actions be 
good or bad, our motive tends through them 
towards our own interests. 

May Jesus Christ, Who always sought God s 
honour, and Whose love made Him come down 
to earth, not to do His own will, but the will of 
His Father Who sent Him, loose my tongue, 
for I should not dare to speak on such a subject 
but at your desire, which urges me to endeavour 
to tell you something of what I have read. 

The best way to possess true charity and 
understand what it is, is to consider how the 
Blessed in heaven practise it, because the more 
closely we imitate them, the more perfect shall 



Letter XX 1 27 

we be in that virtue. The love which the 
saints bear towards God transforms their will, 
so that it becomes one with His : that is, they 
can wish, or not wish, only what He does ; 
because, as St. Denis says, one effect of love is 
to make the will of those that love one, and 
God s whole love and will are centred upon His 
own glory and essence, which is supremely 
perfect. It therefore follows that the love of 
the saints is that single-minded affection and 
will, with which they long, with all their strength, 
that God may be in Himself as good, and 
glorious, and adorable as He is. Seeing Him 
to possess all these perfections, they feel an 
ineffable joy, which is the fruit of the Holy 
Ghost. It will give us some idea of what this 
happiness is, if we consider how a good son 
rejoices in seeing his father rich, powerful, wise, 
beloved and respected by all, and honoured by 
the king. Indeed, some children are so dutiful, 
that no troubles or misfortunes of their own 
can destroy the pleasure they feel in their 
parents prosperity, which they consider of the 
first importance. Now if this human joy for 
a parent be so great, what- must be the jubilation 
of the saints, transformed as they are by 
heavenly love, at beholding that God is so holy, 
perfect, and rich in excellence. They see that, 
as Creator of the universe, He, by one single act 
of His will, gave all things their beauty and 
being, and upholds them in existence, so that 
not a single leaf can rustle in the wind but by 



128 Blessed *John of Avila 

His consent. Behold the joy "such as eye 
hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it 
entered into the heart of man." (i. Cor. II. 9.) 
This, then, as far as it is possible for us to 
understand it, is the "chanty" of the just in 
heaven. From this overflowing river which 
gladdens the city of God, comes, as a streamlet, 
their love for their neighbour. Their one 
longing and joy is to see the God they love so 
fervently, possess all glory and honour, and 
hence they ardently desire that the Blessed, 
their companions, may be as full of beauty, and 
felicity, as they are themselves, because God is 
thus honoured in them. For this reason they 
delight more in the perfections of the greatest 
saints than in their own, because they see that 
they give God the higher praise, thus showing 
how far they are above the envy which springs 
from self-love. But, perhaps you will say, they 
may feel some sorrow at finding themselves in 
a lower degree of sanctity than others, since it 
prevents them from giving so much honour to 
their Creator as they might have done. You 
must remember, however, that the first effect 
of their love of God is to unite their wills with 
His, so as to accord fully with His desires: 
thus they are content with what they possess, 
seeing that it is His will that one soul should 
exceed another in glory. The city of God is 
embellished by having diversity of rank among 
the saints, as a violin produces sweeter music 
for having many strings of different notes, than 



Letter XX 129 

it could do, had it but one. As the Blessed 
perceive, that by there being different mansions 
and degrees of glory in the triumphant Church, 
it gains in beauty and that thereby their Lord s 
honour is increased, they are not troubled 
by being in a lower state themselves than others 
of their company: for they, with their paler 
tints, and the others with their richer colours, 
blend together in their united manifestation of 
the infinite love and beauty of their Creator. 
This is the river which St. John saw in the 
Apocalypse, issuing from the throne of God 
and of the Lamb: from this the Blessed drink, 
and, inebriated with love, sing their everlasting 
Alleluia, praising and blessing our Lord God. 
This is, as it were, the enamel, which decorates 
those precious stones of which is built the 
Temple of the heavenly Jerusalem. Now, my 
dear sister, such is the sanctuary you must 
make in your heart as a dwelling-place for God, 
as Moses was commanded to see and make the 
Tabernacle according to the pattern that was 
shown to him on the mount. (Exod. XXV. 40.) 
If you intend to pass through this life in 
perfect charity and love of God, you must, as 
far as possible, constantly desire that He may 
be in Himself as good, as holy, and as full of 
excellence, as indeed He is. It must be a 
continual joy and feast to your soul to consider 
God s attributes, and think how He contains in 
Himself all power and perfection, and how, 
though all creatures possess their being from 

Vol. I. 9 



1 30 Blessed yohn of Avila 

Him and cannot exist without Him, yet He 
has no need of them. This must be the end 
you should strive to attain, and in this, as 
St. Thomas says, consists perfect charity. The 
feeling of tender devotion towards God which 
beginners call charity, although holy, is not of 
so high a degree of purity as that which unites 
souls with their Beloved. Holy Scripture 
frequently invites us to this love, as in the 96th 
Psalm we find, " rejoice ye just, in the Lord." 
St. Paul too writes : " Rejoice in the Lord," 
and not content with enjoining it once, he 
repeats the counsel saying " again I say rejoice." 
David also cries : " Delight in the Lord, and 
He will give thee the requests of thy heart." 
(Ps. XXXVI. 4.) This is the joy the most 
holy Virgin felt when she sang: "My spirit 
hath rejoiced in God my Saviour;" and which 
our Lord Himself experienced, when, as St. Luke 
writes, Jesus " rejoiced in the Holy Ghost." 
(X. 21.) The royal prophet also tells us: 
" My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the 
living God." (Ps. LXXXIII. 2.) The " heart" 
here signifies the will, and this happens when it 
is actually engaged in loving and desiring that 
God may possess those good things which are 
indeed His. Sometimes this joy so overflows 
the soul, that the body itself is inflamed with 
devotion towards its Creator. It is so excellent 
and divine, that the Church, which is guided 
by the Holy Ghost, invites us to practise it in 
the Invitatory of Matins, exclaiming: "Come 



Letter XX 131 



let us praise the Lord with joy: let us j< 
sing to God our Saviour." (Ps. XGIV. i".) If 
you would prove its excellence, practise it, and 
you will find the soul cannot satisfy herself 
without praising God. Seeing that God possesses 
all that she desires Him to have, she immediately 
breaks forth into thanksgiving to Him. This 
is the same effect which follows with the Blessed 
in heaven, according to the Psalm: "Blessed 
are they that dwell in thy house, O Lord, they 
shall praise thee for ever and ever." (Ps. 
LXXX11I. 5.) So ardently did St. Augustine s 
heart burn with this love, that he ejaculated: 
" If Thou O Lord, wert Augustine, and I God, 
I would make Thee God, and myself Augustine." 
There is no need for further instances to prove 
the excellence of this love, which is manifestly 
that which draws a man out of himself, and 
unites him to the Deity. 

Therefore, my dear Sister, let your actions 
and devotions be directed to the glory and 
honour of God, Who deserves that all His 
creatures should serve and adore Him for His 
own goodness alone, without looking for any 
recompense for themselves. Though it is right 
and holy to perform our good works with the 
hope of future reward, yet perfect charity rather 
seeks the honour and glory of our Lord God, 
and this should be our chief intention. We 
may sometimes, however, consider the blessings 
to be reaped for ourselves, so as to animate our 
fervour in good works ; thus you may say with 



132 Blessed John of Avila 

David : "I have inclined my heart, for the 
reward, to do thy justifications for ever." (Ps. 
CXVIII. 112.) 

But perhaps you will ask " How can the 
soul, which is often sad and tepid, have strength 
to constantly rejoice and exult in the Lord? 
How can it always feel such perfect and 
sovereign love?" As I have already told you, 
charity consists in the unwavering desire that 
God should possess in Himself all the perfections 
proper to Him, and this the heart can wish for, 
although it may be dry and sorrowful; just as 
a son can hope for his father s happiness, 
however unfortunate he is himself. I allow 
that for this there is need of the grace of God, 
but that He never refuses to those who 
endeavour to walk in this way. If He wishes 
to communicate more intimately with the soul, 
He also gives it a joy and exultation which is 
the fruit of the Holy Ghost. When His 
Majesty bestows this favour upon us, let us 
thank Him for it; but when He does not 
vouchsafe to do so, let us persevere in striving 
to bless, worship, and adore Him as He 
deserves. It is in that act of the will that 
charity consists, and it is a great error to think 
that unless it is accompanied by feelings of joy, 
it is worthless. The devil knows this, and is 
always trying to make us feel lukewarm and 
dry, so that we may give up this holy practice. 
Persevere in it, and stop your ears to his 
temptations, or you will never gain the crown 



Letter XX 133 

in heaven which those who are advanced in this 
holy love wear even on earth. Keep constant 
watch that you do indeed make God s honour 
your real end, for so great is the bias towards 
self-love inherited with fallen nature, that 
sometimes you will find yourself seeking self, 
even when acting with this intention: by rejoicing 
at your affection for Him, because of its reward 
in heaven, or because of the consolation it 
brings to your soul, or for other selfish motives, 
which would mar the perfection of your charity. 

Now that you see how your love for God is 
to be modelled on that of the saints in heaven, 
I will explain the love of your neighbour which 
should spring from it. It consists in loving 
his virtues, and desiring them for him, that God 
may be glorified in him. Your pleasure should 
augment in proportion as his sanctity increases 
and you should regret his sins as offences 
against his Creator. For since the love of God 
consists in wishing him well, and rejoicing in 
His perfections, so fraternal charity is an act of 
the will by which we wish well to others, 
rejoice in their true good, and feel sorry for 
their faults. This is a great grace our Lord 
bestows upon whom He chooses. The love for 
God and man, then, both concur to the one end 
that God may be praised and worshipped. 

This shows how far he fails in charity who 
grieves to see others make more progress in 
perfection than himself. Though our hearts 
should be deeply wounded at seeing that we do 



134 Blessed John of Avila 

not serve God as we ought and might, yet they 
should be consoled by seeing others render 
Him the homage in which we are wanting. 
To feel regret at this can only spring from 
self-love, for, if we desire only God s glory, we 
can but rejoice at seeing others give it to Him. 
Now, dear Sister, you see what you must do 
in the Paradise of the Church militant, in which 
God placed you when He called you to His 
love and grace, if you would hope to receive 
the reward that will be given to the Church 
triumphant in glory, in which I beseech our 
Lord that we may all worship and praise and 
enjoy Him for all eternity. Amen. 



Letter XXI 135 



letter m 

TO A YOUNG LADY TELLING HER HOW TO 
MAKE READY TO RECEIVE THE NEW-BORN JESUS. 

How busily employed you must be during this 
holy season in preparing a lodging for the 
Guest Who is coming to you! I fancy I can 
see you, as solicitous as Martha, and yet as 
peaceful as Magdalen, preparing to give to your 
coming Saviour the service both of soul and 
body; and He is worthy of both, for He is 
your God. O blessed time, which brings before 
our minds the truth that God came in the flesh 
to dwell amongst us, to enlighten our darkness 
and to direct our feet in the way of peace, so 
that being made His brethren, we might share 
in His inheritance! 

Earnestly indeed may you long for Christ s 
advent, and prepare your heart to be His 
dwelling-place, for men wished for His coming 
ages before His birth, so that the Prophet styles 
Him " the Desired of all nations." (Aggeus, 
II. 8.) Jesus gives Himself to none but those 
who anxiously look for Him. Choice food is 
thrown away on such as cannot taste it, and so 
those who long not after God s presence, cannot 
value Him as they ought. Our Lord hears 
"the desire of the poor" (Ps. IX. 17.) and 



136 Blessed John of Avila 

bends His ear to listen to the sighing of their 
hearts after Him, for that is all He cares for in 
the children of men. When their sighs reach 
Him, He comes into their souls; nor can He 
refuse Himself, for, as He tells us in the 
Canticle (IV. 9.) " Thou hast wounded my 
heart, my sister, my spouse, thou hast wounded 
my heart with one of thy eyes and with one 
hair of thy neck." What can be more tender 
than that which is wounded by a glance of the 
eye, or more weak than what is bound by 
a single hair? How can men say that God is 
difficult to find, or rigorous in His treatment 
of us, or hard to bear with? Bitterly should we 
blame ourselves for caring to look on anything 
but on Him, and for not closing our eyes upon 
creatures so as in spirit to contemplate God. 

The archer shuts one eye when shooting, the 
better to hit the target, but we will not turn 
our sight from creatures to be able to follow 
and wound our Lord with love. The soul 
that wishes to find God, must withraw its 
affections from all else and place them entirely 
in Him, for God is love, and it is only by love 
that He can be ensnared. He will have nothing 
to do with those who have it not, and if they 
say they know Him as they ought, St. John 
will tell them that they speak not the truth. 
(i. John, IV. 8.) But our Lord, who is 
wounded by a glance, is bound by a single hair, 
for that which is conquered by love is kept by 
recollection and contemplation. 



Letter XXI 137 

In order that men might feel confidence that 
they can find God, and certainty that He will 
not desert them afterwards, He made Himself 
one of them and laid Himself in the arms of 
a Virgin, bound hand and foot in swaddling 
bands, so that He could not flee from those 
who came in quest of Him. O Thou celestial 
Bread, descended from the Bosom of the Father, 
Who dost remain on Thine altars throughout 
the world, inviting all to come and feast on 
Thee, and enjoy Thee! Who could refrain 
from seeking Thee, and receiving Thee into 
his bosom Thee Who dost but ask that man 
should hunger for Thee, to bestow Thyself on 
him? What dost Thou require of the soul, 
but only that it should sigh after Thee and, 
confessing its sins, should beg Thee to come 
and dwell within it? How miserable are those, 
who, when this Bread descends close to their 
very doors, prefer rather to die of hunger than 
to stoop to pick it up. O sloth, what evil dost 
thou work! What riches does not such blindness 
lose for souls! What treasures does not their 
slumber steal away from them! God has 
promised that " every one that asketh, receiveth; 
and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that 
knocketh, it shall be opened." (St. Matth. 
VII. 8.) What but our own negligence is to 
blame if we lose His mercies? Shall we cling 
to our infirmities, now that God comes to cure 
them? He stands at the door of our hearts, 
begging and imploring of us " Open to me 



1 3 8 Blessed John of Auila 

my sister, my love! " (Cant. V. 2.) and we, so 
engrossed by our vanities that we will not rise 
to let Him in, leave Him there with the cry 
upon His lips. Come hither, my soul, and tell 
me, in the name of God, what is it that hinders 
thee from giving thyself entirely to Him? For 
what dost thou care if it be not for this Spouse 
of thine? Why dost thou not love Him dearly, 
Who has such a mighty love for thee? It was 
solely out of affection for thee that He came to 
dwell on earth, and to gain thy profit by His 
own loss. Why art thou placed in this world, 
save to live in mutual love with the King of 
heaven? Dost thou not understand how every 
thing on earth will pass away? What is all 
that thou dost see, or hear, or touch, or taste 
what are all those amongst whom thou dost 
live? they are in truth but as cobwebs, which 
cannot clothe thee, nor shield thee from the 
cold? Where art thou when thou art not 
with Jesus Christ? What dost thou think of, 
or value, or seek for, outside of Him alone, 
Who is the only perfect good? Let us arise 
and shake off this evil dream; let us awake, for 
it is day, and Christ Who is the light, is come; 
let us do the works of day, who were wont to 
do the works of darkness. Oh! that we might 
so bitterly repent of the time we spent in 
ignorance of God, that the memory of it might 
spur us on to speed the more swiftly after Him. 
Would that we might run, and fly to Him, 
and that we might burn with an ardour such as 



Letter XXI 139 

to transform us into Him. What should not 
we poor creatures do, when we see our Creator 
become man solely because of His love for us! 
What passion was ever so strong as to convert 
the lover into the likeness of his beloved? God 
showed that we were dear to Him when He 
made us after His own image, but far stronger 
was the proof He gave of His love, when He 
made Himself in the image of man. He abased 
Himself to raise us to His level; He became 
man to make us as gods; He descended from 
heaven that He might raise us to dwell there 
with Him, and above all, He died to give us 
life. And shall we lie slumbering, and make 
Him no return for this great love? 

Enlighten mine eyes, O Lord, that they may 
not sleep in death, and do Thou, Who hast 
granted us these mercies make us duly grateful 
for them, lest the very greatness of Thy gifts 
should turn to our deeper condemnation. 
Open my eyes, O Lord, that I may see Thee 
descending from the bosom of the Father into 
that of Thy Virgin Mother, so that I may 
thank Thee as I ought, and humble myself 
before Thee. Let me look on Thee, lying 
with a manger for Thy cradle, sobbing with the 
cold and oppressed by poverty, that I may be 
willing to surrender all luxuries for Thy sake. 
Let Thy cries resound in my ears, and soften 
my heart, so that it may be as wax in Thy hands. 
Do not permit God to weep, and man to be 
indifferent to His tears, for I know not which 



1 40 Blessed "John of Avila 

of these two things is to be most dreaded. 
Seal up, O Christ, Thy words in my soul, that 
it may sin not against Thee: gather up the 
Blood Thou sheddest for me, and pour It into 
my heart; let my love be wholly Thine as a 
return for all Thy sufferings for me. It was 
for me Thou didst seek; for me Thou didst 
fight; for me Thou didst bear the mockings, 
and all that cost Thee so dear: let me be all 
Thine, since Thou hast ransomed me so dearly. 
God Who is about to be born has no house 
nor cradle ready for Him, so do you prepare 
your heart for His dwelling-place. Let it be 
warm with love, for the Babe is chilled; but 
still, if it be only tepid, the shivering Infant 
will bring it greater heat. The more He suffers 
from the cold for us, the more strongly does 
He prove His love, and so deserves our love 
still more. In the rigorous winter weather 
which He bore for us, He chose to wear no 
clothes to protect Him; but naked was He born, 
and naked died upon the Cross for us, because, 
both in His birth and death, He manifested the 
greatest excess of love. You must have ready 
a crib, then, in which to rock him to sleep, 
which symbolises the repose of contemplation. 
See that you treat Him well, for He is the Son 
of a mighty King and of a Virgin, and loves to 
dwell in the breasts of virgins, for the food that 
pleases Him is mortified and crucified nature. 

He has many poor brethren, and those who 
love Him must love them too, for His sake. 



Letter XXII 141 

Give them your alms, for they are the brothers 
of your Creator. 

When our Lord comes to be born in your 
soul, keep careful guard over Him, and may 
He protect and save you for His mercy s sake. 
Amen. 



itetter mi 

TO A LADY, ON THE FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY, 

TELLING HER HOW TO ADORE THE INFANT JESUS 

AND OFFER HIM THE GOLD OF DIVINE LOVE. 

I WROTE to you in Advent about the great mercy 
our Lord showed in deigning to visit us, and 
the happiness of the soul to whom He comes. 
I hope that in His mercy He has come to you, 
and that you have received Him with faith and 
love. Offer yourself, then, wholly, as a per 
petual sacrifice to Him Who has deigned to be 
your loving guest ; and since you have toiled 
like the Magi in seeking the Divine Child, 
imitate them in their faith and in their gifts to 

o 

Him when they found Him. Contemplate God 
Himself, humbly lying in a crib within a stable, 
where human reason would never have led the 
Kings to look for Him. The star, which is 
faith, stopped above the cave, and declared by 
its resplendent rays, as by so many tongues, 
that here, concealed from man s understanding, 



142 Blessed John of Avila 

He lay hid, Who is above all our science and 
understanding. So does the star which is faith, 
teach us to believe the more firmly where there 
appear least grounds to do so. For if these 
travellers had been led by their reason instead 
of by the star, they would have sought the 
new-born King in a royal palace as the most 
suitable abode for Him. Our Lord gives a 
great grace to those to whom He manifests 
the star of the light of faith, so that, like the 
Magi, they may find Him hidden in the swad 
dling clothes and amidst the poverty of His 
Birth, or, as did the good thief, in the ignominy 
and death of the cross. If the three Kings had 
believed our Lord to be but an earthly sovereign 
however great, they would merely have paid 
Him the respect due from one man to another, 
but faith revealed to them the Incarnate God 
concealed beneath the appearance of a new-born 
Babe, and they adored Him, prostrate on the 
ground, confessing their own nothingness in 
His presence. 

Take care not to appear empty-handed before 
our Lord, and think not that you are giving 
Him anything, if you give not your love. 
Nothing but God can make you happy, nor 
can anything you offer Him but yourself satisfy 
Him. His is not a mercenary love which 
regards the value of the gift, but it is that true 
and perfect love, which is the union of hearts. 
This, as St. Bernard says, is when God and the 
soul speak in accord. For if the Almighty 



Letter XXII 143 

threaten or punish me, I must not do the like 
to Him, but, when He manifests His power, 
humble myself the more. But if He give me 
His love, I am bound to return it, crying with 
the Spouse: " My beloved to me and I to him." 

What an honour for the creature to be united 
to its Creator in such a bond of mutual love; 
this indeed is what Isaias tells us " levels 
mountains and raises valleys." (XL. 4.) Offer 
your heart to Christ, Whose tender mercy for 
us led Him, though the infinite God, to become 
a man, nay an infant, and Who, not satisfied 
with shedding tears when He was born, eight 
days after shed His Blood for us. 

Since you so entirely belong to our Lord, do 
not rob Him of yourself, lest you be found 
among those of whom the prophet Jeremias 
says: "They walked in their own will and in 
the perversity of their own wicked heart." 
(VII. 24.) To whom else should you give 
yourself? Where else would you be better off? 
How can you exalt yourself more highly than 
by loving Jesus, Who loved you and washed 
you in His Blood, and Who gives Himself to 
those who desire Him, making them from men 
to become as gods? 

Be careful then, to offer gold to the Infant 
Jesus. For as a little gold is worth more than 
a great quantity of the baser metals, so a little 
gold of true love is far more precious than all 
the copper of fear and self-interest, with the 
actions springing from them. Many people 



144 Blessed John of Aw la 

value themselves in proportion to the number 
of their good works, forgetting that God cares 
more for the motive or our actions than for 
their quantity, and that far fewer works would 
be better pleasing to Him, were they accom 
panied by warmer love. With love, a small 
alms, or a fast from one meal only, will content 
Him better than much greater austerities and 
gifts without it. So the widow who gave her 
two mites pleased Him better than many who 
gave far more, because of her truer love. 
God s greatness appears in this, that no service, 
however great counts for much before Him, if 
not rendered with the whole heart. For why 
should He, Who has need of nothing, and 
Who cannot increase in riches or in any other 
good, care for aught that can be given to Him, 
except for the love of the giver, which is 
so precious a present that none can rightly 
refuse it? This gift God desires so strongly, 
that He punishes all with eternal death who 
withhold it from Him. Who can be so little 
covetous as He Who has no need of anything 
we can offer Him? or who is there that longs 
for our hearts as keenly as God does, seeing 
that He sends to hell those who refuse them to 
Him? Even if we love Him, He is not 
contented unless we prefer Him above all else. 
St. Augustine cried: "Lord, Thou commandest 
me to love Thee, and dost threaten me with 
misery unless I do so!" Let your chief care 
be to love our Lord. It is for this He made 



Letter XXII 145 

Himself so little, for the more He dissembles 
His Majesty, the more He shows us His 
goodness and thus invites our love, which we 
are more drawn to give Him in the littleness 
which He took upon Him, than in the majesty 
which is His own. His wisdom was hidden 
when He became an infant without power of 
speech; His power appeared as if bound by the 
swaddling-clothes, as He lay upon the hay, 
suffering from the bitter cold. All this He did, 
because the more He hid His other attributes, 
the more He manifested His tenderness for us, 
so that we might love Him the better for what 
He endured for us. For, surely, when we see 
Him tremble with cold, it draws our hearts to 
Him more than if we saw Him warmly clad, 
and free from suffering. Therefore, if we 
refuse our hearts to the divine Babe Whose 
devotion to us cost Him so dear, we shall have 
a heavy fine to pay. He who gives his affections 
to God, offers what David terms " the holocaust 
with its marrow;" for as fire consumes the 
whole sacrificial victim, so does love consume 
the whole man, both within and without, and 
its flames do not leave unburnt the straws of 
exterior vanities. How can he whose heart is 
given to the Infant Jesus, bring himself to care 
for pomp and show? for those who love grow 
to resemble one another. Since God bestowed 
on us such a favour in coming down to show 
Himself to us as our way, let us travel to 
heaven in His footsteps, Who is the Truth, and 

Vol. I. o 



146 Blessed John of Avila 

not run in the treacherous path of the world, 
which would lead us to hell. Let our holocaust 
contain marrow, which is soft and quickly 
melted, like the heart given to God, which 
should have nothing hard or sharp in it towards 
either Him or its neighbours. And as the 
marrow is protected from injury, first by the 
skin, then by the flesh, and lastly is encased 
within the hard bone itself, so should charity 
be guarded by the devout soul at the risk of 
losing all it possesses; and the will, hard as the 
bone, should resolutely defend, at any cost, its 
love for our Lord. 

Such must be the gold you offer to the 
Infant, Who chose to be born so poor. Open 
then, your caskets, as did the Magi ; for if your 
heart, which is your treasure-house, be kept shut, 
all your labour is lost. All else is not gold but 
tinsel, and you would keep the best for yourself, 
and give our Lord the worst. Open your 
heart then, and place in it the new-born Infant, 
for without Him it cannot be said to live. He 
is not a burden; hold Him then fast to your 
breast as the Spouse did her " bundle of myrrh." 
(Cant. I. 12.) Treat Him with all reverence, 
for He is your God; yet you may dare to speak 
to Him, for He is a child, and is as sweet and 
gentle as He looks. Beware lest you let Him 
go, for it requires great care to keep Him. 
You must love Him dearly, or you will either 
forget Him, or He will weary you. Do not 
rest until you feel sure of your love for one 



Letter XX11I 147 

another. Until the soul knows this, she lives 
in fear and sadness beneath the weight of the 
Law, but when once she realises that God 
dwells in her, and she in Him, there is little 
that can trouble her. May this be accomplished 
in you. Amen. 



Letter mii 

TO A DEVOUT PERSON, TREATING OF HUMILITY, 
PRIDE, AND THE PERFECT LOVE OF GOD. 

MAY God bless you during this Lent, and grant 
that you may receive the ashes upon your 
forehead at the beginning of this holy season 
with such fitting dispositions as to constantly 
preserve that holy humility in your heart which 
they betoken. He to whom God gives light 
to understand and to sorrow for the state he 
was in while he lived apart from his Creator, is 
delivered from the fatal blindness of pride, and 
is made capable of receiving all fitting spiritual 
graces. The Holy Scriptures say: "Pride is 
the beginning of all sin: he that holdeth it shall 
be filled with maledictions, (Ecclus. XI. 15.) 
that is to say, "vices." For as a king is 
rarely seen alone, so, many other sins usually 
accompany pride, and neither does humility 
keep solitary state; for, as St. James tells us 
(IV. 6.): "God giveth grace to the humble," 
and grace is the mother of all the virtues. 



148 Blessed John of Avila 

Pride seeks after honours and is grieved when 
it is despised; humility is averse to being treated 
well and rejoices in contempt, which it knows 
that it deserves, and its own uprightness renders 
it desirous that justice should be done. Pride 
never has what it wants, for whatever it possesses, 
or has given to it, it considers that it deserves 
still more; while humility always thinks it has 
more than enough, for it believes that it is 
unworthy to walk the earth, and that hell itself 
is not sufficient punishment for its sins. Pride 
can live in peace with no one, not even with 
itself, while humility agrees with all men, for it 
abases itself before everyone and bears patiently 
with them, believing with all its heart that they 
are better than itself. Pride finds it insup 
portable to submit to others, whether to God, 
or a mortal creature, but humility gives way 
and bows down, so that it is able to pass through 
the " narrow gate " of obeying the will of God 
and man. 

Great are the blessings which come to us 
with the ashes of humility; let no man be 
without it, lest he be without God also, for, as 
St. Augustine exclaims: "Behold how high 
Thou art, O Lord, and yet dost dwell with the 
lowly of heart!" The prophet also says: "To 
whom shall I have respect but to him that is 
poor and little, and that trembleth at my words?" 
(Isaias, LXVI. 2.) Humility, which makes 
a man think, basely of himself, is yet no base 
thing, nor is it a fruit which springs from this 



Letter XX1I1 149 

earth, but grows in heaven. God bestows it on 
those who search deeply in the mire of their 
own souls, and diligently turn over in their 
minds the remembrance of their sins and 
frailties, for it is among such needs and miseries 
that this precious jewel is usually discovered. 
Our frequent errors have given us so many 
transgressions to examine into and to repent of, 
that, unless he wilfully turn away his eyes from 
himself, there is no man who will not see ample 
reasons not only to be humbled, but to be 
confounded, at his own imperfections. Woe 
be to us if we be one of those of whom God 
says: "Thou hadst a harlot s forehead, thou 
wouldst not blush:" (Jerem. III. 3.) or again, 
speaking of others: " They were not confounded 
with confusion." (Jerem. VI. 15.) For what 
can be more revolting than to meet with 
insolence in one who should be filled with 
shame? Who dare lift his eyes to God or to 
His creatures, if he consider how he has offended 
against them both? Is there one among us who 
has not failed in the perfect love of God? for 
we do not love Him with all our understanding 
and with all our mind but by believing His word 
implicitly and by devoting all our wishes, 
thoughts and purposes to serving Him more 
fervently. He who loves Him with his whole 
heart gives no part of it either to himself 
or other men, loving none save for God, and in 
God, and so renouncing all self-interest as to 
love God purely for His own sake. Let each 



150 Blessed John of Avila 

one think how little he has mortified his passions, 
and how he resists the reign of God s love 
within him, and he will see that he does not 
love God with all his soul. Our Lord commands 
us to love Him with all our strength, and 
indeed we ought to beg His pardon for our 
weakness in this respect; our energies are given 
to our own interests, and the concupiscence 
which dwells within us makes us fail to serve 
God diligently, and love Him fervently. Saint 
Augustine says that, as charity grows, concu 
piscence diminishes, and that no evil desires 
can exist with perfect charity. By the word 
" desires," he means the immoderate self-love 
we all bear towards ourselves. Now, as, with 
the exception of Jesus Christ our Lord, and 
His most holy Mother, no member of the race 
of Adam has ever been altogether without 
some degree of this inordinate self-love, so 
none but they have ever been perfect in divine 
love. If .selfishness has killed the love of God, 
then we are in a state of mortal sin ; while if the 
love of God lives and reigns in our souls, making 
them resolute not to offend Him mortally, they 
are in a state of grace. If, however, self and 
creatures usurp an undue place in our affections, 
our charity is not perfect. Our works are im 
perfect if this virtue is defective, since it is that 
which gives them life. When we do not love 
God as we should, we are wanting also in the 
love of our neighbours, for we neither feel 
compassion for the sorrow nor joy at the 



Letter XXIII 151 

happiness of those who are very near and dear 
to God, and who were made His adopted 
children in Baptism. We do not behave towards 
them with due charity, because we are imperfect 
in our love for Him Who said: "As long as 
you did it to one of these my least brethren, 
you did it to me." (St. Matth. XXV. 40.) 

Although many of our actions may be not 

only free from sin, but good in themselves, and, 

being done in a state of grace, may merit eternal 

life, yet for want of this two-fold charity, which 

is the root of all good, these works may have 

many defects. If you would be truthful and 

humble, you must give God glory for all the 

good you do, and thank Him for having aided 

your free-will to choose rightly, and for giving 

you the power to merit by using the grace He 

has mercifully bestowed on you. Nevertheless, 

you must examine the faults you have committed 

in these actions, for it is safer to think of our 

failings than of our virtues. Be sure that, 

however strict your search may be, enough evil 

will still escape your notice to give you cause 

to cry with contrition to God: "From my 

secret sins cleanse me, O Lord." (Ps. XVIII. 14.) 

This is the reason that we do not love our 

neighbours in the way God wishes, nor as much 

as He desires, and that we do not bear patiently 

with them and try to avoid annoying them. 

In fact, this is the origin of all the shortcomings 

which pollute our soul like a festering wound. 

Our sins are greater than the human intellect 



152 Blessed John of Avila 

can realise, and only our Creator, who sees to 
the bottom of our heart, knows all its weakness; 
for often that which seems perfect to us is very 
evil in His sight. 

Therefore, as Job says, we should " fear all 
our works," (IX. 28.) and however right they 
may seem to us, we must not be contented with 
them, nor allow ourselves a secret complacency 
in them. The self-contented conscience does 
not content God; and that man alone is just 
before Him, who knows that all justice and 
grace proceed from the divine mercy. Nothing 
so offends its Creator as a self-satisfied heart, 
because it contains no empty vessel into which 
He can pour the riches of His mercy. It will 
remain in its natural poverty, for it can offer no 
place into which the waters of grace may flow, 
to make it live happily with God, and bring 
forth much fruit, like a well-watered garden. 

All things that we possess proceed from God, 
and if anyone thinks he can so much as say 
"the Lord Jesus!" of his own power, he puts 
himself in God s place, for he attributes to 
himself what his Creator alone can do. God 
gives Himself to us on the condition that we 
confess the truth, that in Him and from Him, 
and not from ourselves, comes all that we have. 
The greater the good we possess, the deeper is 
our debt towards the Almighty, and the stronger 
reason have we to blame ourselves for not 
corresponding to such signal mercies by more 
generous service, and to greater graces with 



Letter XXIII 153 

a warmer gratitude. He who is taught by 
divine truth attributes nought to himself save 
his sins and his own nothingness. If all that 
God gave us at our creation, and which by 
His power He daily sustains, were withdrawn 
from us, there would remain only nothingness 
and we should return to the nothingness from 
which we were formed. And if God took 
from us the grace which He bestows on us for 
the sake of Jesus Christ, what would the most 
holy amongst us be, but what Peter was when 
he denied our Lord, or Paul when he persecuted 
his Redeemer? We know but too well what 
we were before God touched our souls, and 
taking from us our old hearts gave us new 
ones in their stead. 

Justification is nothing but the resurrection 
of a soul which was dead in sin, and henceforth 
exists by the life which God infuses into it 
through the death of His Blessed Son. It 
would be madness if the body attributed its 
animation and power of motion to itself and 
not to the spirit which dwells in it and quickens 
it; and the soul is as blind which thinks that its 
good works come from its own abilities, and 
not from the supernatural life divinely bestowed 
on it. Sometimes such presumption draws 
down chastisement from heaven, and the gifts 
possessed by the soul are withdrawn, so that it 
finds itself unable to see, to hear, to take 
pleasure in religious matters, or to perform the 
good actions it was wont to do. Thus the 



154 Blessed yohn of Avila 

Christian soul discovers that it was another 
Being Who gave it the spiritual life which it 
did but receive, and that without the grace of 
Jesus Christ it is like a corpse from which 
animation has fled. You see, then, my friend, 
that your defects are all you can attribute to 
yourself, for you possess nothing else of your 
own. If our Lord afflict you, think how weak 
and faulty you must be, to show so little 
resignation at His just punishment. If He 
send you consolations, be confused at the want 
of humility you manifest in the way you accept 
them, for the more God honours you and 
treats you as if you were righteous, the more 
should you abase yourself, and be ashamed of 
your short-comings. Remember how little you 
profit by the inspirations and promptings you 
receive from God, and how often, when He 
urges you again and again to do something for 
Him, you forget His wish almost at once, and 
do not carry it out. Surely His every word 
should remain imprinted in your memory for 
life, without need for Him to repeat it. Think 
how often your faulty heart lets the precious 
grace which our Lord pours into it become 
wasted, instead of carefully preserving it. 

When God gives us spiritual sweetness, we 
should prepare our souls to receive it again by 
withdrawing more from earthly joys, and by 
keeping our minds closed against them and 
more recollected and given to God; yet it 
sometimes happens that these very graces only 



Letter XXIII 155 

cause our souls to be more given to external 
things than ever, because of the levity of our 
natures. An examination of our failings must 
make us confess that we do nothing well, and 
that we have more cause to blush for the many 
defects in all our actions, than to think for 
a moment that we have done anything praise 
worthy. 

If a page dees not show due respect to the 
king he waits on, if he answers not immediately 
when he is spoken to, or if he be slow in 
delivering any message, he will certainly be 
punished. So too, those we serve are not 
content at our merely doing their bidding, but, 
unless we do it well, we shall be blamed and 
disgraced. Which of us can say that he treats 
God with the reverence He deserves? Or 
whose soul trembles within him while he adores 
that ineffable Majesty as, we are told in the 
holy Mass, "the Powers tremble?" Where 
is the shame we should feel before that infinite 
Wisdom, Who knows what we are, and sees all 
that is within us? Where can obedience be 
found such as needs no second bidding? Where 
a prudence that shows the soul how best to 
serve and please the Almighty? Have Christians 
a fitting gratitude for His numberless and 
unspeakable benefits, or do they give such a 
mighty God and Master that service of soul 
and body which is His due? If any one truth 
fully judge himself, he will see how deeply sunk 
he is in sin and misery. At night when the 



156 Blessed yohn of Avila 

time comes to examine his conscience as to the 
actions of the past day, he will find that all his 
words and works, his thoughts and deeds, are 
full of faults, and that he has left undone much 
good that he might have done, because he has 
not rightly loved God or his neighbour; he 
will recognise his ingratitude towards God, and 
his impatience in bearing with others; and he 
will discover that he has omitted to practise 
innumerable other virtues. If, by the divine 
help, he have performed any good works, they 
are either stained with pride, vain glory, or 
tepidity, or he has not fully corresponded to 
divine grace. In short, God s light will show 
him a thousand blemishes in his conduct, and 
he will feel sure that there are as many more 
he has failed to discover; understanding the 
weakness of his nature, he will suspect that he 
knows not half the worst. The humble Christian 
thinks his own wickedness as inconceivable as 
is God s goodness. Should any divine favours 
be shown him, far from attributing them to any 
merit of his own, he blames himself for not 
corresponding to them, and profiting by them 
as he ought. Thus he sincerely gives God his 
due, which is all that he possesses which is 
good and unsullied by any admixture of evil. 
Convinced of this truth, as revealed by God 
Himself, the lowly spirit rising above itself, 
ceases to depend upon such a broken reed as 
itself and leans for support on Him Who 
upholds all things. Looking within his soul, 



Letter XXIII 157 

the Christian sees cause only for repentance, 
and so lifts his eyes to his Creator, in Whose 
loving kindness he can trust without fear of 
being forsaken. God is so faithful that He 
never abandons those who have recourse to 
Him; His love is so tender that far sooner 
will the sea run dry, or the sun cease shining, 
than the heavenly Father lack pity for His own. 
Therefore do they run and fly because God 
carries them; they stumble not, for He upholds 
them; they err not, for He is their guide, and 
never will they be condemned, for He gives 
His kingdom to those who " become as little 
children." 

Take heed to yourself then, since our Lord 
so urgently demands it of you ; give glory to 
God for what is praiseworthy, but impute to 
yourself all that deserves blame and dishonour. 
Place all your hopes of perseverance in the right 
way in our Lord, Who did not set you in it 
with the intention of deserting you half way, 
but seeks to lead you by it into the company of 
His spouses in Paradise. There He will heap 
honours upon you, so do not seek for honours 
here. With a celestial feast in prospect, you 
should not satiate yourself with the filth of this 
world : nothing can please the palate which has 
once tasted of that heavenly banquet. Turn 
away from all that you will so soon be forced to 
leave, and set not your heart on aught so transi 
tory. You would be bearing little enough for 
God, if you alone had to endure all possible 



158 Blessed John of Avila 

sufferings. Think of the hell your sins have 
deserved, and of the Paradise our Lord means 
you to enjoy, since He has put you in the road 
that leads to it. Contemplate the pains Christ 
bore for your sake, and you will deem all that 
you do or may suffer for Him unworthy of a 
second thought. God should be so precious to 
you that nothing He costs you should seem 
worth considering ; even if you purchased Him 
with your life, so small a price should count as 
nothing. In Heaven you will realise what an 
advantageous exchange you made, and how 
foolish those poor wretches were who set their 
hearts on the transitory good, and gave them 
selves up to pleasure, oblivious of God s 
promises. What fervent thanks you will render 
to Divine Providence, for having enlightened 
you when you were deceived as they are, and 
drawn your thoughts above this earth. You were 
the slave of vanity when our Heavenly Father 
adopted you for His son : you were living 
without thought of God s promised mercies, 
when He placed you where you now are, and 
so gave you the right to trust that He will be 
your succour both in life and in death. 

Then after this exile is ended, He will set 
you in the land of the living, in the clear 
fruition of the Beatific Vision. What your joy 
will be God alone can tell, as He alone is able 
and willing to bestow it. This will He do, not 
for your own merits but because " He is good, for 
His mercy endureth for ever, " (Ps. CV.i.) and 



Letter XXIV 159 

to him be glory and praise for all, and from all, 
and in all, for ever and ever. Amen. 



Letter rrto 

TO A LADY ON THE FEAST OF PENTECOST. 

GOD grant you to realise the happiness of 
Whitsuntide, not only by hearsay, but by 
experiencing in your heart what was felt by 
Christ s faithful servants assembled in the 
Cenacle, when the Holy Ghost was poured 
into their souls. He so strengthened their 
weakness, enlightened their ignorance, and filled 
them with joy, that all could see that our 
Lord s Blood had not been shed in vain, but 
had gained them, through His prayers, a par 
ticipation in the divine nature. When they 
felt themselves thus transformed by grace, and 
saw how wonderfully God loved them, they 
had such an ardent love for Him, that they 
sang forth praises to Christ their Lord and 
Master, for having, as God, sent them this gift, 
which, as Man, He had earned for them. They 
remembered His promise that the Holy Ghost 
would come to make Him known, and bear 
testimony of Him to the disciples and the 
world, to teach all that every good comes 
through Him alone, so that all might feel bound 
to render Him service and gratitude, as their 



1 60 Blessed John of Avila 

most true and generous Benefactor. Because 
of this they loved Him even better after His 
departure, than while He was amongst them, 
and felt so great an affection infused by the 
Holy Ghost into their souls for the Word 
of God, from Whom He proceeds and in Whom 
He reposes, that they fearlessly preached Him 
to the world, even at the cost of their lives. 

If the mystery of this feast were accomplished 
in our hearts, we should be sure to celebrate its 
outward ceremonies well. Were our souls 
watered with but one drop from the mighty 
river which flows from the throne of God and 
the Lamb, it would quench in us all thirst for 
anything in this world, and remove the aridity 
and hardness which make us so dry, tepid, and 
miserable. How grateful should we feel to our 
Saviour for having redeemed us, and blotted 
out our sins and given us perfect joy instead 
of sorrow! Suffering, exile, the absence from 
those we love, the want of things we now think 
necessary, or other trials would no longer afflict 
us. So powerful is the fire of the Holy Spirit, 
that it mounts upwards, and gives us a love 
and trust in God that no water of sorrow or 
affliction can extinguish: it remains ever alight; 
it fills and inflames our hearts, burning away all 
evil, so that not even death can conquer him 
whose evil passions it has destroyed. 

This is the beloved Guest, Who cured the 
wound which our Lord s departure made in the 
hearts of those who loved Him, and filled the 



Letter XXIV 161 

place He had left empty. If the Paraclete could 
console them for the absence of Jesus, how much 
more can He comfort us in any grief caused by 
the loss of creatures ! He is the Parent Who 
cares so tenderly for the orphaned that He 
clothes them with power from on high, and 
sheltering them beneath His mantle, teaches 
them that there is One in heaven Whom they 
may dare, without presumption, to call their 
Father. He raises the fallen, enlightens our 
darkness, warms what is frozen, brings back 
the erring, refreshes the weary, and each day 
gives souls new strength to fly upwards, even 
to the mount of God. 

Surely such a v wonderful gift should fill us 
with zeal, and make us give all our hearts 
affections to purchase this precious pearl, which 
is our true treasure, and which alone can make 
us happy. All around we hear the tidings of 
His coming to men, and of His longing to 
dwell in their hearts. Let us not allow Him 
to pass by, but constrain Him to visit and 
comfort us that we may serve Him the better. 
He will need little entreaty; ask Him in our 
Lord s name, for the Father sends Him through 
Jesus Christ His Son. It is our Saviour Who 
obtained for us poor mortal creatures, frail, 
impure and subject to many evils though we 
be, the gift of the Holy Spirit, Who is higher 
above us than the firmament is from the earth. 
Our vileness could never have attracted Him. 
Our Redeemer, the Only-Begotten of His 

it 



1 6 2 Blessed John of Avila 

Father in heaven, abased Himself to become 
Man on earth, and taking our weakness on 
Himself, suffered, toiled and gave His life, 
that the Paraclete, the Creator of all things. 

* O 

might deign to come to us, poor vessels of clay. 

Let us then thank our Saviour, and rejoice 
in the fruit of His labours. Since, through 
His merits, the Holy Spirit wills to dwell 
within us, let us not be so ungrateful as to lose 
both of these favours, nor so foolish as to reject 
the Holy Ghost, Who deigns to become our 
Father and our Guide. We should go forth 
with love, to meet Him Who comes with love; 
we should feel an ardent longing to receive 
Him, for where He is much longed for, He 
gladly stays. Let us cry, with Isaias: "My 
soul hath desired Thee in the night: yea, and 
with my spirit within me in the morning early 
I will watch to Thee." (XXVI. 9.) That 
soul "desires" the Holy Spirit by night, which 
in the time of sorrow puts no confidence in 
itself, but sighs to Him, as the Comforter of 
the afflicted and the Solace of all in pain: it 
" watches for Him in the morning early," when 
its first care is to provide a dwelling for this 
divine Guest, and to study how best to obtain 
this grace. If the Holy Ghost is thus 
eagerly desired and invoked, He will come, like 
our Lord, Who was the Desired of all nations, 
and will assuredly enter our hearts, for He 
loves those who long to possess Him. 

Let us invite the Paraclete, then, by heart and 



Letter XXIV 163 

voice, to dwell within us, and let us be sure we 
have some feast to offer Him when He comes. 
To please Him we must destroy our fleshly 
passions, for He detests them; we must mortify 
our own judgment, so that we can be taught by 
Him, for two people cannot govern a house well 
unless the wiser take control. We must also 
renounce our own will, which is the chief enemy 
of the Holy Spirit, Who teaches us to say " Not 
my will, but Thine be done. " (St. Luke. XXII. 
42.) Let us too, cleanse our consciences by 
confession and penance from the slightest defile 
ment, for this Heavenly Guest is a Lover of 
purity, and there must be nothing to offend Him 
in the place where He lodges : we must keep 
peace both with ourselves and with others, for 
even quarrelsome people hide their dissensions 
before a guest whom they wish to honour. 

When this mighty King deigns to make our 
hearts His palace, we should close them to all 
else, and being recollected in His presence, not 
let our minds leave Him to wander elsewhere. 
We should worship Him with the deepest 
reverence, assuring Him that nothing shall ever 
make us desert Him, or be allowed to come 
between us. Then we shall enjoy Him as we 
ought, for He can give us a happiness of which 
nothing can deprive us. Then our sorrows 
shall be turned into joy, and we shall drink of 
the river of the delights of God until it inebriates 
us. It will be a great consolation to me to 
know that you are in the hands of Him Who 



164 Blessed "John of Avila 

will preserve, and teach, and save you eternally, 
and I beg of Him to take you under His 
protection. 



Letter rrto 

TO A LADY ON THE FEASTS OF PENTECOST AND 
CORPUS CHRISTI. 

Dear Madam, 

It would interest me to 

know what is passing in your soul during this 
week, which is consecrated to the Holy Ghost. 
He gives light to the understanding, love to 
the will, and even strength to the body, which 
gift is symbolised by the parable of the three 
loaves the man offered his friend, on returning 
hungry and weary from his journey. The Holy 
Spirit takes away the hunger our heart feels 
when wandering amongst creatures, and fills it 
with the bread of fulness and satisfaction. 

Woe to us if we feel not the nothingness of 
all that is visible and turn not to God, if only 
because we are wearied at discovering the defects 
and nothingness of all in which we hoped to 
find our rest. When, O God, will our souls 
be chaste and loyal to Christ our Spouse; when 
will our love, untainted by affection for any 
creature, be wholly given to Him? When 
shall we learn that He alone is the Master of 



Letter XXV 165 

our souls, that He created us for Himself, and 
that He alone can satisfy us? Can we not 
remember that we have often experienced how 
ill the world treats those who trust it, and that 
our souls have never known rest nor peace 
except, when, realising their miseries and 
poverty, they have taken refuge in God and 
been received in His embrace? A short space 
of this joy is worth more than a life-time spent 
in the empty noise and vanities of this foolish 
world. There can be no better time than this 
to say to earthly things " I know you not," and 
to cleanse and empty our souls, so as to provide 
a dwelling-place for the God Who created us 
from nothingness. 

The Paraclete Who will visit us is so holy 
that He would not come even to the disciples, 
until our Lord s Body was taken from their 
sight, to show how utterly empty must be the 
temple in which He dwells. I am glad that, 
having prepared your heart by His grace, you 
have received Him into it, both to His joy and 
your own. Rejoice with the Holy Ghost, for 
He is joy itself; remember how St. Paul tells 
us not to grieve " the Holy Spirit of God, 
whereby you are sealed unto the day of 
redemption," (Ephes. IV. 30.) that is, the last 
Judgment. To be dull and sad, to serve Him 
slothfully and tepidly, and to perform actions 
displeasing to this most holy Guest, is " to 
grieve the Holy Spirit." 

He is "flame," and wishes His servant to 



1 66 Blessed yohn of Avtla 

be ardent and to glow with fervour, and to 
throw on to the fire kindled in his heart the 
fuel of good works, and light it up with holy 
thoughts. This will prevent this heavenly flame 
from dying out. Our spiritual vitality depends 
on its burning: if we keep it alive, it will 
maintain our life in God, although we are only 
returning to Him what He has first given us. 

This week will have been a real feast to you, 
as you have kept not only its outward observ 
ances, with those who care for nothing but its 
ritual and festivities, but in your heart also, as 
God commands, Who wishes us " to adore 
Him in spirit." 

Let us now consider how you are to prepare 
for the feast of Corpus Christi which is so near 
at hand. It would indeed be a disgrace for the 
Christian soul not to long and hunger after this 
holy Bread. Christ was waited for even by the 
three Kings in their far-ofT country, and desired 
by the prophets and patriarchs long before the 
Incarnation. What greater joy than to see our 
Lord, Whom heaven and earth cannot contain, 
veiled beneath the accidents of bread: sometimes 
borne by our hands, passing amongst us through 
our streets, and making Himself our companion, 
and again, sometimes deigning to enter into 
our poor sinful breasts. 

Do not let my words pass from your mind, 
but rouse yourself to consider this great favour 
and work of God. Empty your heart of all 
else, that it may hunger keenly for this celestial 



Letter XXV 167 

Bread on which the Angels feed. Be watchful 
during these days lest your attention wander. 
This is the week consecrated to the Holy Ghost, 
therefore beg Him for grace to observe devoutly 
the feast of the Body of Christ. That Body 
was conceived by Him, and when we receive 
Holy Communion on that day, the Paraclete 
will come to us also, because it was through 
our Lord s merits that He was sent to us. 
Christ s merits are imparted to us in the Holy 
Eucharist in proportion to the worthiness of our 
dispositions. 

Thus one festival prepares us for the next 
and should make us long for it. Unlike the 
banquets of the world, where those who have 
feasted at noon are not hungry at night, each 
festival of the Church increases our appetite for 
the next, fulfilling God s promise in Leviticus 
(XXVI. 5.) " the threshing of your harvest 
shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage 
shall reach unto the sowing time: and you shall 
eat your bread to the full." Blessed be God, 
for so bountifully providing for us that He 
even bestows on us His very Self. The Son is 
given to us, and through Him the Holy Spirit, 
and with Them comes the Father. Thus the 
Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit reside 
within us, and we already have a beginning 
here of that intercourse with God which will be 
perfect in the next life. Let us thank Him for 
all His mercies and prepare ourselves to receive 
the favours that still remain to be bestowed on 



1 68 Blessed John of Avila 

us. With hearts raised on high, let us celebrate 
the feasts of heaven, so that from temporal joys 
we may pass to those which are eternal, in which 
I pray that you, Madam, may have your share. 
Amen. 



m f f\ /> f-f CV 

4 G 6052 



Printed at Stanbrook Abbey, Worcester. 



BX 4700 .A78 1904 SMC 

Avila, Juan de, 

Letters of Blessed John of